In May, census funding and implications of the citizenship question were hot topics on Capitol Hill. Both topics will figure prominently in congressional deliberations throughout the long, hot summer.
FY 2019 Appropriations
With only a few months remaining before Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 begins, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working frantically to draft and prepare for floor consideration of all 12 FY 2019 appropriations bills, including the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau.
On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee approved H.R. 5952, its version of the FY 2019 CJS bill. The bill included $4.8 billion for the Census Bureau–$2 billion over the agency’s FY 2018 funding level, almost $1 billion above the Administration’s request, and approximately $70 million more than census stakeholders recommended. In report language accompanying the bill, the Committee clarified that some of the increased funding can be spent in the first quarter of FY 2020. In addition, the report also expresses interest in 2020 Census information technology developments and concern about the “burdensome” nature of the American Community Survey. Further, the report urges the Census Bureau to engage in “increased outreach activities to historically undercounted communities, including colonias.”
During the House Appropriations Committee mark up, Congressman Joe Serrano (D-NY) offered an amendment that would have prohibited the Census Bureau from spending funds on a census that includes a citizenship amendment. It was rejected on a voice vote.
Overall, census stakeholders were pleased by the generous increase the House CJS bill proposed and encouraged that during consideration of the bill no “raiding” amendments were offered targeting the Census Bureau as an offset for funding other programs. Pundits predict the full House of Representatives will consider the CJS bill this summer as part of a smaller “minibus” appropriations measure, combining as many as two or three other appropriations bills.
In preparation for consideration of its FY 2019 bill, on May 10, the Senate CJS subcommittee held a hearing at which Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified. During the hearing, Secretary Ross answered questions about the Census Bureau’s proposed FY 2019 budget and the rationale behind his decision to propose adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. In his written and oral testimony, Secretary Ross confirmed that the decennial census is the Department’s “top priority.” A webcast of the hearing is posted at: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/review-of-the-fy2019-budget-request-for-the-us-dept-of-commerce.
The Census Project sent a sign-on letter to all members of the Senate CJS subcommittee urging the Senate to match the House Appropriations Committee’s recommended funding level for the Census Bureau in its version of FY 2019 CJS bill.
A one-page summary of the stakeholders’ FY 2019 funding recommendation is now posted on the Census Project home page at: https://censusproject.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/fy2019-ask-summary-june-2018.pdf.
House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing on Citizenship Question
In May, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held two hearings to address the proposed 2020 Census citizenship question. The first hearing, which was held on May 8, was promoted as a progress report on the 2020 Census. However, most of the questions and discussion centered on the Administration’s proposed citizenship question. Witnesses included Earl Comstock, Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Commerce Department; Ron Jarmin, Acting Director of the Census Bureau; David A. Powner and Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office (GAO); and Justin Levitt, Associate Dean for Research at Loyola Law School, who previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Justice Department during the Obama Administration. The witnesses’ testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing is posted at: https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/progress-report-on-the-2020-census/.
During the hearing, Democratic committee members largely criticized the Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question and asked probing questions about the necessity of these data given the American Community Survey (ACS) includes a citizenship question. Republican members defended the Administration’s decision and rejected concerns raised by Democratic members who stated putting an untested citizenship question on the 2020 Census will increase costs and suppress participation. Republican committee members stated that the ACS citizenship question provided sufficient insight into how the proposed citizenship question would be received on the 2020 Census.
On May 18, the committee held a second hearing at which Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division John Gore, who was subpoenaed to appear, answered questions about his memo to the Census Bureau, requesting the addition of a citizenship question. A webcast of the hearing is posted at: https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/progress-on-the-2020-census-continued/.
On June 8, the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, held a hearing, “Questions Regarding the U.S. Census.”
Additional resources regarding the citizenship question are available on the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights home page at: https://civilrights.org/census/.