Stakeholder Recommendations Regarding 2020 Census Questionnaire Assistance Centers

Believing it “crucial to provide an effective on-the-ground presence for the 2020 Census in local communities in order to raise public awareness, deliver trustworthy information, and provide options for self-respondents to receive questionnaire assistance,” 90 organizations sent a letter to the Census Bureau on March 19, 2019, encouraging the Bureau “to promptly consult with stakeholders in developing a plan for QACs for the 2020 Census” and offering some initial recommendations:

  • The overall scale of the QAC program in 2020 should be at least as large as in 2010.
  • The Census Bureau should open, manage, and staff local QACs.
  • QACs should target geographic and demographic communities at risk of being undercounted.
  • QACs should respond to the key issues affecting response in 2020.
  • QACs should be open through the self-response operation.
  • The Census Bureau should develop national guidelines for the locations of QACs.
  • QAC locations should prioritize public access and use.

Read the full letter for details.

Census Experts Commend Updated Study Showing Almost $9 Trillion Next Decade from Feds to States Depends on 2020 Census

On the eve of the release of the President’s proposed FY2020 Budget, a coalition of census experts pointed to an updated study that shows the results of the 2020 Decennial Census will help guide the allocation of more than $880 billion a year in federal funds for the next decade. According to an updated analysis led by Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University, more than 55 federal programs use census data to determine how federal funds are allocated to state and local governments. The 50-state listing of funds directed annually for health care, Head Start, roads and highway, school lunch programs, housing assistance, and a variety of other programs, was recently completed. The detailed tables on national and state by state impacts can be found here.

“The fair and equitable distribution of federal financial assistance to state and local governments and households will depend on the accuracy of the 2020 Census,” said Professor Reamer. The George Washington University project is called “Counting for Dollars.”

The estimate of $883,094,826,042 is more than double the $400 billion estimate in advance of the last national head count in 2010, and points to why it is critical for Census operations to run smoothly if states and localities are to receive their fair share. Representatives of a coalition of census stakeholders representing business, industry, civil rights, academia, and state and local government pointed to the new findings as to what’s at stake for the nation in next year’s national head count.The GWU study demonstrates almost $9 trillion in federal funds will be shared with state and local governments across the nation between 2020 and the next head count in 2030, all dependent on accurate, complete and reliable census data.

Mary Jo Hoeksema of the Census Project said the study is a testament to the need for adequate resources for the Census Bureau as Congress is about to receive the President’s budget.

“The Census Project will refer all Members of Congress to this incredibly thorough study to emphasize the importance of full support for the Census Bureau,” said Hoeksema. “This comprehensive data proves that short-changing the Census planning will only cost local communities all across the nation,” added Hoeksema.

Census Project Stakeholders Meet New Census Director

On February 27, 2019, the Census Project convened stakeholders for a meeting with the new director of the Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, and his top staff, for the first time since he was sworn in on January 7. We look forward to a productive relationship, especially as we count down the days to the 2020 Census.


Senator Leahy Recognizes Magnitude of Census Budget Needs

Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently acknowledged the magnitude of the budget challenge facing Congress in funding the Census Bureau.

Speaking on the Senate floor, on February 28, 2019, he warned that, “we face significant cost increases in important programs that we have no control over. For example, we need to increase funding for the decennial Census by $4 billion in order to carry out our constitutional responsibilities to conduct the 2020 Census.

Census Project stakeholders have met with the Senator’s office and keep in close contact with his staff.

Sen. Leahy urged his colleagues to “begin negotiating a two-year budget deal now to address these realities. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend it will fix itself.”

With Fewer Area Census Offices, Congress Looks for Questionnaire Assistance Centers for 2020 Census

This blog was originally posted by the Insights Association on February 12.


By Howard Fienberg, VP, Advocacy, The Insights Association and Co-director, The Census Project

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau plans to have only half as many regional census offices (six instead of 12) and area census offices (248 instead of 494) as were used in the 2010 Census. That spurred Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20) and 54 of his House colleagues to reach out to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with concerns about how this could exacerbate potential undercount in rural, low-income and minority communities.

The Bureau intends to compensate for the decreased footprint in the field by using “technology to efficiently and effectively manage the 2020 Census fieldwork, and as a result, reduce the staffing, infrastructure, and brick and mortar footprint required for the 2020 Census.” However, Panetta and his colleagues shared skepticism that “lower projected self-response rates, reduced local presence, and increased reliance on automation” still pose a significant problem.

The letter asked Ross specifically:

  1. “What formula did the Bureau rely upon to determine ACO locations?”
  2. “Did the Bureau reassess ACO allocation after the cost estimate projected a self-response rate decrease?”
  3. “Does the Bureau plan to provide additional field resources, through additional ACOs or questionnaire assistance centers, to increase response rates in rural areas, communities with decreased internet access and use, and traditionally hard to count communities?”
  4. “What is the plan to increase response rates in rural, minority, and low-income communities that have disproportionately lower rates of internet access and use?”

It is presumably too late to add more regional or area census offices, because of the cost/planning involved in securing the real estate, so questionnaire assistance centers present a more most flexible way the Bureau could deploy in the field to encourage self-response, since they can be set up as kiosks in existing community locations, such as churches, libraries or retail stores.

The Congressmen concluded that, “Rural and minority communities receive a disproportionate share of federal resources to pay for education, healthcare, nutrition assistance, hospitals, and child care. Communities currently suffering economic anxiety cannot afford to lose federal resourcing due to a lack of Census accuracy.”

Read Panetta’s letter to Secretary Ross.

Post-Shutdown Census Priorities for Congress

Following the most recent government shutdown, Congress needs to commit “to an adequate, timely investment in 2020 Census preparations as” the House, Senate and White House “negotiate the final spending bills for FY 2019.”

According to a recent letter from the Census Project, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), the “Census Bureau must have an uninterrupted funding ramp-up, from final preparations this year through peak operations in 2020, to help ensure the success of this constitutionally-mandated national activity.”

“Equally important,” the groups commented, “is certainty as to level of resources and congressional directives, to guide activities and schedule for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

Why the urgency? The 2020 Census starts early next year and the “partial government shutdown that ended on January 25 severely threatened” preparation. As the letter explained, “We know that the Census Bureau tried to reassure lawmakers and the public that it has sufficient fiscal resources to continue 2020 Census activities on schedule and at full scope through April. While we appreciate the Bureau’s commitment to fulfilling its mission under difficult circumstances, the lack of transparency makes it impossible to evaluate these statements. Of related and equal concern, Census Bureau leadership cannot plan for expanded 2020 Census activities (as highlighted in recent versions of committee bills) without certainty about the Bureau’s full year funding level, or at least knowledge of when additional funds will become available. Early in the recent government shutdown, the Bureau estimated that forward funding for 2020 Census activities would last six to eight weeks, but later doubled this projection. This significant revision suggests that some activities are being streamlined, paused, or not carried out at the pace necessary to ensure robust preparations in the field.”

Read the February 4 letter to Congress.

Census Project and House Census Caucus Cosponsor “Census 101” Briefing for New and Returning Staff

On February 7, The Census Project, at the invitation of the House Census Caucus, sponsored a briefing to inform new and returning congressional staff members about key census funding, policy, and planning issues facing the 116th Congress. The event was standing-room only with about 90 House and Senate staff members in attendance.

Mr. Ed Pagano, Akin Gump, and former Chief of Staff to Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee, discussed the unique nature of the decennial census funding cycle and the major 2020 Census activities that the Census Bureau will be conducting in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Ms. Corrine Yu, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Ms. Terry Ao Minnis, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, provided an overview of major policy issues, including the evolution and potential implications of the proposed citizenship question, undercount threats for young children, rural areas, and communities of color, and information technology challenges specific to the nation’s first “digital” census. Mr. Steve Jost, Subject Matter, and former Associate Director of Communications, U.S. Census Bureau, discussed the intricacies of the decennial census communications plan and reviewed resources that are available to help congressional offices promote participation in the 2020 Census and assist their constituents.

In addition to the briefing, earlier in the week, Census Project members participated in over 20 meetings with freshmen House offices, informing staff about a wide range of census-related funding and policy issues.

The speakers’ slides are posted here:

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