Uncertainty Regarding Federal and Census Funding As FY 2021 Concludes

The current fiscal year (FY) 2021 ends on September 30. Given the lack of progress in passing FY 2022 appropriations bills, Congress and the White House must agree upon the terms of a short-term spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR). On September 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 220-211, H.R. 5305, the FY2022 Extending Funding and Emergency Assistance Act, which would fund the federal government through December 3, 2021.

Typically, except for a few “anomalies,” CRs hold spending for federal agencies at the previous year’s level. For this initial FY 2022 CR, the White House submitted a list of anomaly requests, including an anomaly for the Census Bureau. Specifically, the anomaly would have provided the Census Bureau with sufficient funds to deliver 2020 Census data products, begin planning for the 2030 Census, maintain peak operations of the Economic Census, and support innovations as part of the Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise (DICE) program. The Census Project led a letter urging Congress to include the Census Bureau anomaly in the FY 2022 CR.

Given pressures to limit the number of spending anomalies, the CR passed by the House did not authorize one for the Census Bureau. Unofficially, the Census Bureau said that because of recent spending and saving strategies, the agency will be able to sustain all current activities for the duration of this CR. However, if it becomes necessary to enact another CR to keep the government open beyond the end of the year, the Census Bureau will need a funding anomaly to support decennial census activities, the 2022 Economic Census, and the DICE program.

On September 27, the U.S. Senate will begin debating H.R. 5305, but it is not currently expected to pass given Republican opposition to a provision that would suspend the federal debt limit. If the CR cannot pass the Senate, the federal government will shut down at midnight on September 30. Only activities deemed “essential” will remain operational. While the Census Bureau is not considered an “essential” agency, it would be able to sustain some of its decennial operations using carryover funding from prior appropriations for an unspecified period. This strategy is consistent with Census Bureau operations during the government shutdowns in 2018 and 2019.

Ideally, Congress will pass and send to the White House a CR that the President can sign into law while negotiating the final FY 2022 appropriations bills. The Census Project continues to urge Congress to provide the Census Bureau with $2 billion in FY 2022—a figure endorsed by numerous national, state, and local organizations and over 30 members of the U.S. Senate.