A message to Congress: Keep the U.S. Census fully funded
by Amanda Wong
In the past weeks, Congress has sent a loud and clear message that the U.S. Census is not a high priority.
Both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have taken up appropriations bills that strip significant funding for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey (ACS), which would strain the Census Bureau’s ability to collect much-needed data.
The census does not just count people; it collects data to understand community needs, protects civil rights and informs policy decision making. In the course of our country’s history, census data has helped spur the passage of seminal civil rights protections because it objectively illuminates unequal opportunity and unequal access.
This data allows us to implement, monitor and evaluate civil rights laws and policies — from fair political representation and voting reforms, to equal opportunity and access across all economic and social sectors of society, including housing, education, health care and the job market.
While the 2020 Census may seem far off, every year, the U.S. Census Bureau needs funding to prepare our nation so that all of our communities can participate in the census.
Right now, the U.S. Census Bureau is trying to modernize the decennial census process through cost-saving innovations. During 2015, the agency needs to develop the IT infrastructure to support the online response option, ways to “optimize” Internet response, and the protocols for facilitating online response, as well as how to process online responses without a unique identifier.
These processes need to be tested thoroughly so that the agency is able to collect information through the Internet that still provides us the accurate data we need. Additionally, the bureau still has to do significant testing and evaluation of how to use administrative records in the decennial census that will allow for cost savings without sacrificing accuracy of data, among other operational aspects of taking a census.
If Congress fails to provide the necessary funding to the Census Bureau, the agency will not be able to conduct this much-needed research and testing, putting the accuracy of the 2020 Census at risk, and potentially increasing the cost of the census by 5 billion dollars, instead of cutting costs.
Beyond cutting funding, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has even gone so far as to introduce an amendment that would render participation in the ACS voluntary. This could lead to response rates plummeting by more than 20 percent and ACS costs could swell to an additional $90 to $100 million per year.
Rep. Poe’s amendment passed the House late in the night. If such an amendment goes into effect, it will lead to inaccurate results and data loss on demographic and economic characteristics for remote rural communities, small localities, urban neighborhoods and smaller population groups. That certainly impacts Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, as well as other communities of color.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) denounced the House of Representatives’ near-sighted decision to cut the Census budget, stating: “We cannot afford to waste 5 billion dollars. We need to be fiscally responsible and have an understanding of costs beyond the time scale of a one year funding bill, which means investing in the census now.”
The games over funding the U.S. Census must end. We stand with Rep. Mike Honda, and are calling on Congress to fully fund the U.S. Census and protect the American Community Survey.
Amanda Wong is a 2015 summer law clerk with Advancing Justice | AAJC. Amanda is a third-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center.