How to Talk to Your Member of Congress

As you advocate for a robust federal statistical system, one way to gain the attention of your member of Congress or their staff is to be familiar with your congressional district’s economy and workforce using federal statistics.

Recently the American Statistical Association, in partnership with APDU and the Congressional Management Foundation, sponsored a webinar tutorial on the subject. The recording highlights the rich trove of resources from Bureau of Economic Affairs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census that contribute to this important set of data.

Don’t Underfund the Census, AEI and CBPP Researchers Agree

By Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs and I are together urging Congress to adequately fund the Census Bureau as it prepares for the 2020 census. Although our organizations frequently disagree on policy matters, Andrew and I strongly agree that policymakers and businesses can’t make good decisions without good data, as we explained in a joint letter to key senators and House members.

The funding bills approved in the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee don’t provide enough funds for the Bureau to gear up for the mammoth census operation.  As I’ve written before, both bills provide a fraction of the spending increase that Congress has traditionally made available to the Bureau at this stage of census preparations in past decades.

In shortchanging the Bureau, Congress is following the lead of the Trump Administration, which sharply reduced its 2018 Census budget request relative to what Obama Administration budget documents projected the Bureau would need (see page 62 of this document.)

The stakes are high.

  • Census data — and the myriad surveys that build directly upon those data such as the American Community Survey (ACS) — help businesses and communities decide where to build stores, factories, roads, bridges, homes, and schools, and help policymakers, researchers, and voters assess national and local needs.
  • Census and ACS data help direct where the federal government sends billions of dollars in grants and assistance each year.
  • Shortchanging census preparations now could add to the eventual cost of the census. That’s because the Bureau is planning to save taxpayer dollars using innovative approaches such as online data collection, and databases that can save census takers from knocking on doors of vacant homes. Cutting funds for these innovations could add billions of dollars to taxpayer costs in 2020, the Bureau has estimated.

Our letter reflects our shared concern that the Bureau lacks the funding to conduct an accurate census. As we wrote:

No policy or philosophical outlook is well-served by a lack of accurate data. The alternative to accurate, detailed data on American households is policy-by-anecdote, in which lawmakers respond to perceived needs without data needed to determine how large or widespread a problem might be, where its impacts are most concentrated, and how it may be best addressed. Such a process would spend federal funds neither effectively nor wisely.

For these reasons, we urge you to provide adequate funding for the Census Bureau and the 2020 census.

 

 

This article originally appeared on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website and is reprinted with permission. 

Mapping the Hard-to-Count Populations in the 2020 Census

The mapping team at the Center for Urban Research of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center (cunymapping@gc.cuny.edu, 212-817-2033) developed an interactive map of hard-to-count districts for the 2020 Census. Here are some suggestions for using the map:

  • Search by Congressional district or state legislative district: You can zoom to any district in the country and the map will highlight the hard-to-count tracts within the district and show how much of the district’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods.
  • Identify areas in your state or region where households are particularly at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census: The map shades by color the hardest-to-count tracts in the country, and you can click on any tract (or search by address) to find out important population info, such as:
    • How many households mailed back their census questionnaire in 2010 (therefore how much of the tract may require more costly in-person follow up by the Census Bureau in 2020); and
    • How much of the tract is populated by groups that are at risk of being undercounted, such as children under 5, households with poor Internet access, recent immigrants, and more.
  • Groups can enhance their educational campaigns around the Census Bureaus budget: When you search for a district (or click on the map), the website provides contact info for each congressional and state representative.  If groups reach out to these elected leaders, they can highlight the need to fairly and accurately count the district’s hard-to-count population in their message about budget needs for the 2020 Census.
  • Share the map on social media: You can create a permalink for any spot on the map that you can share on social media, in email campaigns, etc.  Here’s an example: this link displays New York’s 2nd Congressional district, where more than 40% of the district’s residents live in hard-to-count tracts.

The map was created with the help of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Humans Rights and with support from the democracy and civil engagement funding community.

Bringing the Dollars Home

As we noted in previous blog posts, a recent 50-state report by Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University details how federal dollars flowing to state and local governments are guided by census data.

Now local media is picking up the story. A good example is an article in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer listing programs ranging from Medicaid and Medicare to school lunch programs to Head Start, that all depend on census numbers to document the needs of Ohio residents.

2020 Census Funding: This Chart Says It All

A Census at Risk - Spending During Four Census Decades
Chart of census spending through four decades by The Census Project. Census 2020 is at the bottom. Sources: Congressional Research Service, Courtesy Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-NY. Final FY2017 appropriation as passed.  FY2018 level reflects the impact of the short term Continuing Resolution as signed by the President on September 8, 2017 with funding through December 8, 2017.

A Census doesn’t happen all at once. While the Census year itself is the most expensive, the Census Bureau has to ramp up for the big count with a decade-long cycle of spending. We can model that cycle by looking at spending each year relative to each decade’s year 1.

For example, the 1990 Census Cycle began in 1981 with $235.1 million (table A). 1982 saw a drop in spending (1981 had included funds to process and publish 1980 Census results). 1983 to 1986 saw budgets more or less similar to 1982. Beginning in 1987, Census budgets rose significantly in preparation for address canvassing in 1988. The next two years saw steep increases as more Census operations kicked in, ultimately culminating in 1990, with a spend of $1.5 billion, fully 6.49 times the 1981 level (table B).

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(Data corrected in October 2017)

Counting for Dollars

Of course, the first job of the constitutionally-required decennial census is to count and place every resident of this country for purposes of congressional reapportionment and in-state redistricting of legislative bodies.

But, a second critical function of census data is to guide the federal government’s disbursement of nearly $600 billion a year of federal dollars to state/local governments to support such programs as Medicaid, Medicare, highway construction, school lunch programs, public housing and Head Start.

Research Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University authored a new report, “Counting for Dollars,” that underscores the relationship between a fair and accurate census and various state and local government programs.

States have a serious stake in the final FY 2018 census budget battles this fall!

In Census Budget Bills, Words Matter

In the early part of this decade, former Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) inserted language into a Senate appropriations bill report requiring that the 2020 Census’ overall, 10-year budget be no more than the costs of the previous 2010 Census. The bill report language became law. For better or worse, this led the U.S. Census Bureau to rely heavily on untested IT/internet options for the 2020 Census to cut costs.

By the middle of this decade, House Republicans were routinely inserting bill language into their versions of the annual census appropriations bill decrying the respondent “burden” to those who participated in the American Community Survey (ACS). Thankfully, the Senate never acceded to the House GOP’s bill language. Therefore, these attacks against the ACS never became law!

Now the Senate Appropriations Committee is proactively challenging the annual House bill report on the ACS. Thanks to information supplied by Census Project stakeholders, the Senate version of this year’s bill contains language stating the particular value of the ACS’s information to rural communities (which are Republican-dominated). The Senate language effectively negates the House action for FY 2018.

It’s for these reasons that the Census Project carefully reviews committee report language each year. Words matter!

 

 

This post has been updated to correctly refer to Sen. Mikulski.