Need even more reason to fill out your census forms next year? Try this:

The federal government’s ten largest assistance programs used Census data to distribute an estimated $478.3 billion this year, according to a Government Accountability Office report released on Wednesday, December 16th.

The sum represents roughly 84 percent of total federal assistance, GAO said. Medicaid, highway construction funding and federal education grants were the top federal assistance programs.

Democratic lawmakers requested the new GAO estimate on behalf of the Census Bureau and private groups working to promote participation in the 2010 Census.

Federal assistance programs use a variety of formulas to determine funding, though many rely at least partially on Census Bureau data. The agency collects population, housing and demographic information from respondents that complete decennial census questionnaires. The Census Bureau also conducts its annual American Community Survey and compiles data for the monthly Current Population Survey, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to determine unemployment figures.

Here’s the estimated obligations for FY ’09 for the 10 largest federal assistance programs:

Medicaid        $266.6 billion

Highway Planning and Construction        $54.1 billion

State Fiscal Stabilization Fund — Education State Grants         $39.7 billion

Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies         $24.5 billion

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B         $22.8 billion

Temporary Aid for Needy Families         $17.1 billion

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers         $16.6 billion

Community Development Block Grant         $13.3 billion

Federal Transit Formula Grants Programs         $13.0 billion

Children’s Health Insurance Program         $10.6 billion

The Census Bureau has partnered with thousands of civic and religious groups and corporations to promote participation in next year’s national headcount. (Some even use Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as part of their outreach.) Wednesday’s GAO report provides census advocates with new ammunition in their efforts to convince skeptical or scared Americans to complete census questionnaires.

In a joint statement, the Democratic lawmakers that requested the report stressed the importance of an accurate count and the aggressive census outreach efforts already underway.

“If you ignore the census form, it will have an effect on your neighborhood, your town or city, your county, and your state during the next ten years,” said Rep.  Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has long concerned herself with census issues.

“This report highlights why it is so important that we get an accurate and inclusive census count next year,” said Sen.  Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on the census.

“Without an accurate census count, some states will not get their fair share of federal dollars, which could handicap local governments and the citizens they serve for the next decade,” Carper said.

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