March 2019 Census Project Update

Fiscal Year 2020 Proposed Budget

Throughout the month of March, the Administration gradually released its proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget request. The barebones budget emerged on March 11, which said only that the Administration was requesting $7.2 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Project called it a “shockingly low amount.” More details emerged on March 18, when the Administration released the official budget document for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. That document confirmed a modified narrative — the president was requesting only $6.2 billion in direct, new funding for the Census Bureau, of which $5.322 billion was to be used exclusively to support the 2020 Census; the Administration proposed to supplement that funding by carrying over resources made available in FY 2019. Final details were released the week of March 25, when the Department of Commerce released the Bureau’s FY 2020 Congressional Budget Justification.

A closer look at the Administration’s request indicates that the President’s request assumes a $1.020 billion carry over from resources available in FY 2019. In a report accompanying the FY 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress made clear that the Census Bureau was to spend this funding in FY 2019 on priority activities that “maximize self-response to the 2020 Census,” including partnership program staff, communications activities, and the opening of local Questionnaire Assistance Centers in hard-to-count communities. The report language suggests that Congress did not intend for this funding to be set aside and spent in FY 2020.

With these additional details in hand, census stakeholders are urging Congress to appropriate $8.45 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau, including at least $7.581 billion in direct funding for the 2020 Census operations, in FY 2020. The recommendation is consistent with two historical trends: (1) about one-half of the total census lifecycle cost — currently $15.6 billion — is spent in the “census year;” and (2) the census budget roughly doubles from the fiscal year ending in “9” to the fiscal year ending in “0.” The Census Bureau has about $4 billion available for the 2020 Census in FY 2019, which includes a carry-over of $1.056 billion from the FY 2018 appropriation. Further, the stakeholders’ recommendation compares favorably with the funding that the Census Bureau received between FY 2009 and FY 2010 ($4.2 billion increase for a total of $7.6 billion in FY 2010) to support the final year of the 2010 Decennial Census.

In April, to coincide with the consideration of the FY 2020 Commerce, Justice Science appropriation bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, The Census Project will be circulating a sign-on letter to inform Congress of the stakeholders’ funding recommendation and rationale.

Below is a short summary of the president’s FY 2020 request, courtesy of Terri Ann Lowenthal, Census Consultant.

Current Surveys & Programs (CSP) (discretionary spending only; does not include $20 million in mandatory spending for S-CHIP data):

  • $264 million (-$6 million below FY 2019 appropriation, but +$15 million above president’s FY 2018 budget request)

Periodic Censuses & Programs (PCP): 

  • $5.885 billion appropriation
  • $1.020 billion unobligated balance (i.e. carry over) from FY 2019
  • Total Budget Authority (PCP): $6.901 billion (+$3.080 billion above FY 2019 direct appropriation)


  • $6.149 billion (does not include the proposed carry-over of $1.020 billion in the PCP account)

On the eve of the President’s Budget, the Census Project pointed to a new study from Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University, finding more than 55 federal programs use census data to determine how federal funds are allocated to state and local governments. Census data thus guides the allocation of more than $880 billion a year in federal funds.

Ninety stakeholder organizations also sent a joint letter to the Census Bureau in late March encouraging the Bureau “to promptly consult with stakeholders in developing a plan” for Questionnaire Assistance Centers “for the 2020 Census” and offering some initial recommendations.

Citizenship Question

On March 6, a second federal judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg, Northern District of California, rejected the Trump administration’s decision to place an untested citizenship question on the 2020 census, saying it “threatens the very foundation of our democratic system.” This decision goes beyond the decision issued by a New York federal judge in January and holds the administration’s actions to be unconstitutional. On April 23, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments and review the ruling in the New York case. A decision is expected by late June.

In related news, on March 14, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee regarding 2020 Census preparations and the proposed addition of a citizenship question. The hearing can be viewed at:

News You Can Use

Below are several articles posted on The Census Project home page in March. For a complete listing, go to:

Recent Media

Citizenship Question