National Groups Warn Congress of Dangers in Underfunding Census

For Release
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A coalition of census stakeholders today warned Congress that without immediate sufficient funding, the 2020 Census is in serious jeopardy. Stakeholders 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 fair and accurate census. In a series of letters to Senate and House Appropriations Committees, groups representing the nation’s governors and mayors, American businesses, research and marketing firms, homebuilders, realtors, and others urged full funding of the U.S. Census Bureau’s request for the balance of the FY2017 budget cycle and for the FY2018 cycle. The organizations warned Congress that, “… failure to fund this cyclical ramp-up for the 2020 Census would severely jeopardize the fairness and accuracy of the next decennial census.”

Organizations representing the nation’s governors, mayors, county executives, state legislators and local governments wrote separately to the Appropriations Committees urging full funding of the U.S. Census Bureau’s request. The seven organizations warned Congress that, “…insufficient funding would degrade this irreplaceable statistical information that state and local leaders need to make informed decisions for their citizens and communities.”

The Census Bureau is facing a daunting array of workload challenges between now and the end of the decade, including the 2017 Economic Census, the annual American Community Survey of about four million households a year and end-to-end testing of new designs for the 2020 decennial Census, which will feature the first ever online response option. Signers of the letters told Congress that, “…the budget for FY2018 therefore must provide another substantial increase in funds over the FY2018 amounts originally requested.”

Census observers have been concerned that Congress has yet to grasp the significant challenges the Bureau faces at this point in the decennial planning cycle and why Census needs an increase in funds now to ensure a successful 2020 national head count. Various news organizations over the last few months have reported that a wide range of organizations dependent upon Census data for business needs, state and local government planning, and economic development were increasingly worried that Congress was overlooking the need to fully fund Census budget requests.

One of the letters’ co-signers, Howard Fienberg, director of government affairs at Insights Association, which represents the marketing research and analytics industry, explained the challenge to the Washington Post last week. “It’s very easy to open a new business in New York City, but putting it in some small town in West Virginia is much more difficult,” Fienberg said. “You have to have really rock solid data to be able to make the case,” he said. “When we have uncertainty, business goes nowhere.”

Arturo Vargas, executive director of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, a nonprofit that promotes Latino participation in government, last week told the Washington Post, “The bureau needs the money now.” He said, “It can’t be doing 2020 blindly. It should be taking the time to do the testing now, to work out all the kinks and make sure the bureau gets it right, because there are no do-overs after 2020.”

Current funding for the government is set to expire on April 28th unless Congress acts to extend the current continuing resolution, or passes an omnibus appropriations measure for the balance of FY2017. Congress must approve the FY2018 appropriations by October 1st of this year, on the eve of several key Census field tests targeting 700,000 households in Rhode Island, Washington state and West Virginia, to finalize operational designs for the 2020 count.