Alarm Raised with Congress on Census Funding Shortfall Census Experts Say Administration Budget is Short More Than $2 Billion

For Release
April 16, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – A broad-based network of business, civic, and academic groups who closely monitor 2020 Census preparations today wrote to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders warning them that the Administration’s proposed funding for the Census Bureau is more than $2 billion short of what is required for the Bureau to fulfill its mission, including preparations for next year’s decennial census.

The letter, cosigned by more than 130 groups as diverse of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Statistical Association, the National Association of Business Economists, and the Partnership for America’s Children, among others, was organized by the Census Project coalition.

“…we urge the subcommittee to appropriate $8.45 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau, including at least $7.58 billion in direct funding for 2020 Census operations, in FY 2020,” the group wrote. The Trump Administration is only requesting $7.2 for all Census Bureau operations, which is well below the amount needed for the Decennial Census alone, according to the last lifecycle cost estimate of the President’s own Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross.

The funding discrepancy centers on plans by the Administration to spend over a billion dollars in FY 2020 of “forward funding” appropriated by Congress last year, instead of as Congress planned for in the current fiscal year.  Census experts said this slight of hand shortchanges census preparations right now that are critical to 2020 operations and is still well short of the total funding required in the Secretary’s last life cycle cost estimate he presented to Congress.

“Stakeholders believe strongly that the Census Bureau should be spending all of the funding available in FY 2019 ($3.015 billion in direct funding and $1.056 billion in ‘forward funding’ from the FY 2018 appropriations law) to help address growing risks facing the 2020 Census, such as cyber threats, disinformation campaigns, the digital divide, and distrust of government. Further, the Bureau should be using this funding now to mobilize states, localities, and community-based organizations to ensure that vulnerable populations, such as young children, low-income urban and rural households, and people of color, are not undercounted in the 2020 Census,” wrote the census experts to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee.

Census Project co-director Howard Fienberg said the Administration’s request, “…defies logic, especially compared with history, when about half of the census lifecycle cost is spent in the census year, and decennial year funding has typically come in at least twice the funding level of the prior fiscal year.”

“Our coalition of census experts is gravely concerned about the risks to a successful 2020 count,” added Census Project co-director Mary Jo Hoeksema.  “Insufficient, delayed, or uncertain full-year funding for the 2020 Census jeopardizes the agency’s ability to meet its constitutional mandate.”


The Census Project ( is a broad-based coalition of national, state, and local organizations that support an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census and American Community Survey (ACS) (the modern version of the census “long form”). Its member organizations, representing the private, public, non-profit, and academic sectors, rely on objective data that the Census Bureau produces to inform evidence-based investment, policy and planning decisions.