In March, two census related stories dominated the headlines: enactment of a final fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill and, more significantly, the decision Commerce Secretary Ross issued to accept a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Read on for more details.
FY 2018 Appropriations Enacted
On March 23, President Trump signed H.R. 1625, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, into law. Enacted approximately six months after FY 2018 began, it provides the Bureau with an impressive total of $2.8 billion–$1.3 billion more than the agency’s FY 2017 funding level. Specifically, the bill includes $2.5 billion for the Periodic Censuses and Programs account, which includes the 2020 Census, American Community Survey, Economic Census, and other cyclical programs, and $270 million for the Current Surveys and Programs account, which covers important ongoing demographic and economic surveys. Also, embedded in the total is $50 million to support a contingency fund requested by Commerce Secretary Ross as part of the Department’s revised life-cycle cost estimate for the 2020 Census. In response, the Census Project said that “the Bureau now has the minimum resources necessary to prepare for its Constitutional mandate.”
In report language accompanying the bill, Congress clarified how it expects the Census Bureau to expend this additional funding. The Bureau is directed to “ensure that its FY 2018 partnership and communication activities in support of the 2020 Census are conducted at a level of effort and staffing no less than that conducted during fiscal year 2008 in preparation for the 2010 Decennial Census.” In addition, the report notes that since “70 percent of the costs of the 2020 Census will be incurred in fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020,” the Bureau is given flexibility to spend half of the amount needed for the 2020 Census in those fiscal years. This language will be especially useful in the (likely) event Congress must pass continuing resolutions to fund the federal government beyond September 30, 2018—the end of FY 2018. Essentially, this provision will give the Census Bureau permission to spend more during the CR while most other federal agencies will be held at their FY 2018 total spending levels.
Congress is pivoting quickly to consideration of the FY 2019 appropriations bills. On March 20, Commerce Secretary Ross testified before the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, while Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin is expected to testify before the same subcommittee on April 18. The Senate has not yet announced dates for similar hearings.
Outside organizations interested in submitting written testimony to the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee in support of funding the Census Bureau (and other agencies funded by the bill) in FY 2019 may do so by April 27. Instructions are posted at: https://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/03.20.18_commerce_justice_science_-_instructions_for_submitting_outside_witness_testimony_for_fy19.pdf. In the Senate, written testimony is due by May 25. Instructions are posted at: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/CJS-OWTGuidelines-FY2019.pdf.
Citizenship Question Elicits Strong Response
On March 26, in response to a request from the Department of Justice, Commerce Secretary Ross announced his decision to accept a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Department of Justice claimed it needed these data to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Secretary Ross argued that the need for more “accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweighs fears about a potentially lower response rate.”
Members of Congress and national, state, and local census stakeholders resoundingly criticized the decision, concerned about the unknown consequences this untested question could have on the conduct of the 2020 Census. Stakeholder organizations representing the business, scientific, civil rights, state and local government, and housing and human services communities worry that adding this question will deter especially hard-to-count populations from participating in the 2020 Census. Further, adding an untested question this close to the decennial could dramatically increase the lifecycle costs of the census by compelling the Bureau to hire more enumerators to conduct non-response follow up visits to unresponsive households—a much more expensive alternative to collecting responses via mail or the Internet.
The Census Project has joined a coalition letter asking Congress to hold hearings to more fully explore the possible implications of the added citizenship question. Further, The Census Project is posting select articles regarding this story on its home page at: https://thecensusproject.org/recent-media/.
Census Bureau Submits Proposed 2020 Census and 2019 ACS Questions to Congress
On March 29, the Census Bureau sent to Congress a handbook describing the questions it plans to ask on the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) : https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/03/28/2018-06166/submission-for-omb-review-comment-request/. Proposed changes to the ACS, which would be in implemented in 2019, include minor changes to the relationship and race and Hispanic origin questions. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is accepting public comments on the ACS questions through April 27.