Census Project Experts Testify at Joint Economic Committee

The Congressional Joint Economic Committee held a hearing on May 22, 2019 on “The Economic Impacts of the 2020 Census and Business Uses of Federal Data.” Howard Fienberg, codirector of the Census Project, and Andrew Reamer, research professor at George Washington University (and frequent Census Project contributor), testified.

Watch the video recording:

The hearing proved to be a useful summary of the importance of the constitutionally-mandated count, not only for fair political representation, but a decade long impact on economic activity, entrepreneurship, and investment.

Although “the Census Bureau aims for a 100% accounting of the U.S. population every ten years,” Fienberg testified, “it rarely achieves that goal. Hard-to-count populations and areas (such as remote and rural areas, racial and ethnic minorities, young children, and low-income households) are normally undercounted. Small inaccuracies in census data have a big impact” on data-driven decision making, which is why the business community cares about the funding and integrity of the 2020 Census.

Reamer emphasized that “the widespread use of data derived from the decennial census by businesses and nonprofit organizations, workers and students, and federal, state and local governments has a substantial positive effect on the vitality of the U.S. economy and the nation’s 6 million private firms. To put this number in perspective, 5.3 million U.S. firms (89 percent) have less than 20 employees. At the same time, the 20,000 firms with 500 or more employees account for nearly half of private employment. In other words, the availability of census-derived data has a substantial impact on the profitability of millions of very small firms and of the very large firms that collectively employ tens of millions of workers.”

Census Bureau Should Spend Available 2020 Census Resources Now

Warning against short changing the 2020 Census, Congressional appropriators need “to ensure that the Bureau is spending adequate resources now to meet” Congress’ directives.

In correspondence to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership on April 29, 2019, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, and the Census Project warned that, “[T]he window of opportunity to enhance and refine key census operations that are most likely to reach historically hard-to-count population groups is closing fast. We are alarmed that the administration has decided to carry over to FY 2020 more than $1 billion in resources available for 2020 Census activities in FY 2019, in order to reduce the direct appropriation it has proposed for next year. In doing so, the administration is short-changing important 2020 Census outreach programs that Congress directed in report language accompanying both the FY 2018 and FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills. We believe that the Census Bureau must expand or plan those programs now, in order to deploy them effectively and prudently in support of peak census operations next year.”

The groups urged Congressional appropriators to “to require immediate and robust Census Bureau action to achieve the following goals” already set by Congress:

  1. “Increase the number of Partnership Program staff and the pace of hiring and onboarding.”
  2. “Expand targeted communications, including the availability of culturally and linguistically appropriate advertising and promotional materials, to boost participation among historically hard-to-count communities and population groups.”
  3. “Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) in hard-to-count communities.”
  4. “Establish a contingency fund to cover costs not anticipated when the president submitted his FY 2019 budget request.”

We concluded by urging them “to ensure that the Census Bureau is spending available resources in the ways that Congress intended and before it is too late to bolster vital activities through cost-effective activities.”

Review the full letters to the House and Senate.

Census Experts Say Administration Budget is Short More Than $2 Billion

On April 16, more than 130 groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and National Association of Business Economists, urged the House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership 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 Trump Administration has claimed to request $7.2 billion for the Census Bureau for FY 2020, but that “obscures and fails to meet the Census Bureau’s true funding needs,” because “it assumes a $1 billion carry over” from FY 2019 of funds that desperately need to be spent in FY 2019. “Congress did not direct the Census Bureau to hold any funds available in FY 2019 in reserve (that is, as a carryover) for FY 2020.”

Even besides that “proposed carryover,” the White House’s “FY 2020 request also falls far short of the projected funding needs set forth in the Commerce Department’s revised census lifecycle cost estimate ($15.6 billion). That in-depth assessment of the decennial census budget estimated a FY 2020 funding level of $7.4 billion. Contrary to the Census Bureau’s current assertion that it needs less money now because it faces less risk, challenges to a successful census have only grown since the Secretary Ross released that estimate in October 2017.”

“Finally,” the letter emphasized, the White House FY 2020 request “doesn’t reflect two historical census funding trends: 1) about half of the census lifecycle costs is spent in the census year; and 2) census year funding for the decennial census is at least twice the funding level of the prior fiscal year.”

Therefore, Census Project stakeholders urged in their letter “to provide the Census Bureau with $8.45 billion in FY 2020, including $7.58 billion in direct funding for the 2020 Census.”

With Congress returning to work on April 29 and heading into a busy summer of FY 2020 appropriations deliberations, census stakeholders hope an agreement to fund the Census Bureau and 2020 Census will be reached before the FY 2020 begins on October 1, 2019.

Read the full letter.

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.”