Senate Low-balls Census in Proposed FY 2022 CJS Appropriations Bill

In lieu of passing the remaining Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bills out of the Appropriations subcommittees and full committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee posted bills and reports on October 18, 2021.

The Senate Appropriations version of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau, would provide $1.432 billion for the Census Bureau (a 23 percent increase over Fiscal Year (FY) 21) — a disappointing $10 million less than the $1.442 billion provided by the House mark and the Biden Administration’s request and $568 million shy of the level recommended by the Census Project.

The Senate recommended $309,865,000 for the Current Surveys and Programs account and $1,122,537,000 for the Periodic Censuses and Programs account (increases of $21,462,000 and $304,296,000 above FY 2021, respectively.

The Census Bureau is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution funding most federal government functions until December 3 (covered in the September 2021 Census Project Update).

Among the details in the Senate committee report:

  • Budget reorganization: The committee “does not accept” the Administration proposal to restructure Census Bureau funding accounts.
  • Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP): The report specifies that the bill would provide “no less than the fiscal year 2021 enacted level for SIPP.”
  • Differential privacy: “The Committee encourages the Census Bureau to work closely with its advisory committees, stakeholders representing public interests, and the data user community to ensure the availability of useful data products, especially for population groups in rural and remote areas, while protecting the confidentiality of personal Census data. The Bureau should continue to consult regularly with data users on disclosure avoidance methods under consideration for all 2020 Census data products, as well as for other Bureau data programs, including the American Community Survey.”
  • Cybersecurity: The Census Bureau is directed to coordinate with the Homeland Security Department and other government agencies and stakeholders “to prepare for, prevent, and disrupt cyber intrusions and disinformation campaigns that have the potential to impact survey participation or compromise data collected by the Census Bureau.”
  • Partnerships: The committee directs the Bureau to continue to partner “with public libraries and other community technology centers to maximize the response to the American Community Survey and other surveys and assessments as appropriate. The Bureau is encouraged to work with libraries and library organizations, in coordination with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, regarding training for library staff and webinars or conference presentations to library audiences about Census surveys and assessments.”
  • American Community Survey (ACS): The report states the committee’s continued support for the ACS, including “as a testbed for innovative survey and data processing techniques that can be used across the Bureau,” and notes that it “is often the primary or only source of data available to State, local, and Federal agencies that need adequate information on a wide range of topics. The data provided is especially important to small towns and rural areas across the country, and the Bureau should ensure that rural areas are covered with the same accuracy as urban areas to the maximum extent practicable.” The Census Bureau is expected “to continue providing updates to the Committee on efforts to evaluate and, where possible, to reduce the number of questions included in the ACS, as well as the steps being taken to ensure that the ACS is conducted as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.”

The Census Project pinpointed the ACS in particular in our budget proposal as in great need of investment after more than a decade of neglect. Our stakeholders view it as essential to remedy any weaknesses in the 2020 decennial count, and agree with the Senate that it is the primary source of social and economic data through the decade, especially for rural areas and small geographies. We will continue our education efforts on why greater investment in the ACS is essential if it truly will serve as a “testbed of innovative survey and data processing techniques.”