August 2017 Update

2020 Census Funding: This Chart Says It All

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-NY. Final FY2017 appropriation as passed.  FY2018 level reflects the impact of the short term Continuing Resolution as signed by the President on September 8, 2017 with funding through December 8, 2017.

A Census doesn’t happen all at once. While the Census year itself is the most expensive, the Census Bureau has to ramp up for the big count with a decade-long cycle of spending. We can model that cycle by looking at spending each year relative to each decade’s year 1.

For example, the 1990 Census Cycle began in 1981 with $235.1 million (table A). 1982 saw a drop in spending (1981 had included funds to process and publish 1980 Census results). 1983 to 1986 saw budgets more or less similar to 1982. Beginning in 1987, Census budgets rose significantly in preparation for address canvassing in 1988. The next two years saw steep increases as more Census operations kicked in, ultimately culminating in 1990, with a spend of $1.5 billion, fully 6.49 times the 1981 level (table B).


(Charts updated based on new figures in October 2017)

As Congress returns from its August recess, the U.S. House of Representatives will be considering an omnibus spending bill, H.R. 3354, Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act. The measure includes all 12 appropriations bills, including H.R. 3267, the FY 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations measure, which funds the U.S. Census Bureau. Unfortunately, H.R. 3267 allots only $1.507 billion for the Census Bureau, roughly $37 million more than the bureau’s FY 2017 budget and $10 million above the Trump administration’s original request (see above).

In a letter to all members of the House of Representatives, stakeholders and allies of the Census Project urged Congress to “allocate at least $300 million above [that] funding level” so as to “ensure a sufficient funding ramp-up two years ahead of the 2020 Census.”

The letter noted that “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. Canceling the ‘dress rehearsal’ in Pierce County, WA, and several West Virginia counties limits the evaluation of complex new counting methods and IT systems. That is a recipe for an undercount and cost increases.”

The Census Project believes Congress itself will fail to pass an overall FY 2018 budget by the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30. Therefore, a short-term Continuing Resolution extending into at least mid-November will be needed. So, the Census Project letter concludes that “if and when Congress considers a FY 2018 Continuing Resolution, we support granting the Census Bureau a funding anomaly that provides the agency with funding above the President’s request, on an annualized basis, to restore comprehensive, rigorous 2020 Census preparations and to meet its obligation to conduct the next decennial census as required by the U.S. Constitution.”

At press time, the House Rules Committee was reviewing over 900 proposed amendments to H.R. 3354, including several that proposed reducing the Census Bureau’s funding further or adding questions to the 2020 Census. The Census Project is working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to track these amendments and will alert the Census Project network if any census related amendments are made in order.

News You Can Use

In an earlier update we reported that Dr. Andrew Reamer of George Washington University has written a new 50-state report detailing how almost $600 billion in federal funds for 16 large federal programs including Medicaid, Medicare, highway construction, housing assistance and Head Start are guided by census data.

Now, that report has been publicly released with the help of the Census Project. An article in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer illustrates how advocates can use the data to explain to their policymakers and the public how valuable the census is to their state.

And, a recent op-ed piece which appeared in the Washington Post authored by former Census Bureau Directors Vince Barabba (1973-76, and 1979-81) and Ken Prewitt (1998-2001) said that the 2020 Census was “under threat of uncertain funding and a leadership vacuum at a critical moment.”

Director Nomination Still Stalled

Census Bureau Director John Thompson resigned at the end of June and no replacement has been nominated by the Trump administration. This leaves the Census Bureau without its top political leadership as Congress decides on the critical FY 2018 census budget.

June 7 letter to the president spells out the concerns of the Census Project.