Expert Census Coalition Calls for $300 Million Funding Increase for Census 2020 Planning

Funding Ramp-Up Well Behind Previous Decades

For Release
Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017

WASHINGTON–Representatives of a coalition of census stakeholders today wrote to House Appropriators with concerns that proposed spending levels for the U.S. Census Bureau in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill are too low to successfully plan and implement a complete, fair and accurate 2020 Decennial Census. The group called upon the House to approve an increase in Census Bureau funding of $300 million. Stakeholders of the Census Project include: state and local governments, business and industry, civil rights and labor groups, housing and child advocates, and research and professional organizations that support a complete, fair and accurate census.

“The current House FY 2018 recommendation is insufficient and, if enacted, will not allow the Census Bureau to move forward with a robust advertising campaign and Partnership Program. These activities are essential to ensuring an accurate count of historically hard-to-enumerate populations, including low-income households, people of color, immigrants, and young children,” wrote the stakeholders.

“Particularly at risk are rural and remote communities, because funding constraints have forced the Bureau to cancel all field tests in rural areas. For example, the Bureau has canceled two of three test sites for the 2018 End-to-End Census Test—the only integrated test-run of new technologies and operations in a census-like environment,” stressed the coalition.

Census observers have been concerned the Trump administration and Congress have minimized the significant challenges the Census Bureau typically faces at this point in the decennial planning cycle or why census needs an increase in funds now. “Despite repeated warnings of the inadequacy of congressional funding and a lack of leadership at the bureau, it seems Congress is willing to risk the success of the constitutionally-mandated national count,” said Phil Sparks, the Census Project spokesman.

During House and Senate appropriations hearings in May, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pledged he would seek additional funding from Congress once a Trump administration review of census plans was completed. “If it is going to cost more, we will come to you, we will explain why and we will try to work with you on solutions,” testified Ross.

“Months have passed since this pledge, and the Census Bureau needs a definitive FY ‘18 budget for proper planning. They cannot effectively spend late-arriving funding from the supplemental appropriation later this year, because essential and complex plans must be put in motion now to be ready for 2020,” said Sparks.

The Census Project released a historical chart on the 10-year funding cycle for each of the last three decennials compared to funding in advance of 2020. The chart shows how previous Congresses had dramatically increased Census Bureau appropriations at this stage in the planning process to ensure a well-planned and executed count of everyone resident in the country every 10 years, as the Framers intended.

A Census at Risk - Spending During Four Census Decades
Chart of census spending through four decades by The Census Project. Census 2020 is at the bottom. Sources: Congressional Research Service, courtesy Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.). *2018 figure from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as reported by the Washington Post.

More information on the Census Project and the Census Bureau’s appropriations can be found at the project’s website.

A full text of the letter to House Appropriators can be found here.