March 2016 Update

FY2017 Census Bureau funding: Both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) have held hearings to review the Administration’s budget request for the Department of Commerce, of which the Census Bureau is a part. Congressional supporters of full funding for 2020 Census planning and a reliable, comprehensive ACS have sent letters to their respective funding committees. The Senate sign-on letter (organized by Sen. Al Franken, D-MN) and House sign-on letter (organized by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, Gerald Connolly, D-VA, and Keith Ellison, D-MN) are posted on our website under Letters: Fiscal Year 2017. Please take a moment to thank your Representative and/or Senators if they signed the letters!

Each CJS Subcommittee will now draft a FY2017 bill, allocating funds for all programs within its jurisdiction. The bills are unveiled when the subcommittees hold their respective “mark-ups” (a meeting to consider and vote on bills), which usually take place in April or May. The full Appropriations Committees will hold their own mark-ups shortly after the subcommittees approve their bills; appropriators are most likely to offer amendments during full committee mark-ups. The House and Senate will then schedule consideration of their respective bills on the floor, when any lawmaker can offer amendments. FY2017 starts on October 1st; if Congress has not passed (and the President has not signed) all of the 12 regular appropriations bills, it must pass a temporary spending measure (called a Continuing Resolution, or CR) to keep government agencies operating. A CR generally funds agencies and programs at current year (FY2016) levels, unless the bill provides a specific exception for higher funding (called an “anomaly”).

Complicating the process this year: Congress might not be able to pass a Budget Resolution, which sets the framework for overall spending and allows the Appropriations Committee to divvy up the pot among the 12 subcommittees. Even though Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2016 last December, setting defense and non-defense spending caps for FY2017, some Members are balking and demanding changes in those spending levels. Whether lawmakers can reach an agreement and consider the appropriations bills through the “regular” process described above remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, census stakeholders should continue to advocate for full funding for the 2020 Census and the ACS, and remind lawmakers that the Census Bureau can’t put the ramp-up to the next census on hold, even if Congress can’t get its work done. We have to take a census every ten years — the Constitution says so!

New Fact Sheet: We have updated our Fact Sheet explaining the importance of the American Community Survey for prudent decision-making, resource allocation, and planning across all sectors of society. “Why We Need the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey” is available on our website under the ACS tab.

Business community highlights support for the ACS: An influential group of business and industry associations sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, urging full funding for the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and supporting continued mandatory survey response. The letter is posted on our website under the Letters tab. Thank you, business associations, for being a valuable part of our census coalition!

NEW Census Project Toolkit: The Census Project has produced a toolkit, “Supporting the Census & ACS: A Toolkit for Coalition Building,” to help state and local organizations harness their influence in support of an accurate census and comprehensive ACS. Download a copy from our website.

Census Advocacy Day a success! The first Census Advocacy Day on the Hill — organized by the NALEO Educational Fund, an active Census Project coalition member — included about 20 visits to individual House and Senate offices, as well as briefings for small groups of offices. Census advocates who participated in the meetings were successful in urging many of the Members to join the sign-on letters to the Appropriations Committees in support of the Census Bureau’s budget request.

2020 Census updates:

▶ The 2016 Census Test swings into full gear this week in portions of Los Angeles County and Harris County, TX. The Census Bureau is evaluating and refining a range of key operations, including effective strategies to maximize self-response (especially via the Internet), automated field operations for Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU), and use of administrative records (data collected by government agencies and third-parties) to reduce the NRFU workload and costs. More information on the test is available on theCensus Bureau’s website.

Federal Register Notice — The Census Bureau invites the public to comment on its plans for the 2016 Address Canvassing Test, scheduled for this fall. The bureau will continue to evaluate the feasibility and accuracy of its plan to update about 75 percent of the master address list for the census using “in-office” methods, thereby reducing the cost of the pre-census address canvassing operation. The test also will examine and refine methods for “in-field” address canvassing. The FRN is available online. The 60-day comment period ends on May 23, 2016.

▶ The Census Bureau is moving forward with its extensive research on alternative race and ethnicity question(s) for the 2020 Census. This month, it unveiled a “pre-decisional” 2015 National Content Test Study Plan, which will guide its analysis of test results and provide a basis for recommendations on these questions. Under Title 13, U.S.C. (the Census Act), the Bureau must submit to Congress the topics to be covered in the 2020 Census by April 1, 2017, and the actual questions for the 2020 Census form by April 1, 2018. We will post a link to the plan and a recorded webinar explaining it, as soon as those materials are available publicly.

Census Residence Rules — Counting Prisoners: The Census Bureau continues to review the “residence rules” that guide where people are counted on Census Day. The bureau published a Federal Register Notice last year, inviting comments on whether there should be changes to the 2010 Census rules. Background on the rules and a compilation of comments submitted are available on the bureau’s website. In a development that could influence the Census Bureau’s decision on where to count persons who are incarcerated on Census Day, a federal district judge ruled earlier this week, in a case challenging “prison gerrymandering” in Jefferson County, Florida’s, board redistricting plan, that counting inmates at their prison, instead of in their home communities, violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of fair representation under the Equal Protection Clause. More information on Calvin v. Jefferson County Board of Commissioners (U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida) is available from the Prison Policy Initiative.