President’s Census Bureau Budget Threatens to Leave Millions In the Dark

A bad budget means real consequences for vulnerable communities

With all the devastation envisioned by Trump’s budget proposal, it is easy to miss a critical and irresponsible move by the administration that threatens to wreck havoc on the 2020 census count and our ability to achieve a fair and accurate census.

As noted when the administration released its “skinny budget,” the budget numbers proposed were, and continue to be, woefully inadequate. Today’s total proposed appropriations for the Census Bureau is $1.497 billion, representing an increase of $51 million for Periodic Censuses and a decrease of $24 million for Current Surveys, for a net increase of only $27 million for the Census Bureau. This comes at a time when the Census Bureau needs to significantly ramp up in order to finalize key testing and decisions, develop an effective communications campaign and language program, and start field preparations as they move to implement the federal government’s largest and most complex non-military operation. The current proposed budget not only makes it impossible to sustain thorough, timely preparations for the 2020 Census, it threatens the Census Bureau’s ability to preserve the collection of vital information about our population, communities, and economy through other surveys.

The current proposed budget not only makes it impossible to sustain thorough, timely preparations for the 2020 Census, it threatens the Census Bureau’s ability to preserve the collection of vital information about our population, communities, and economy through other surveys.

Ironically, the president’s budget proposal relies on census data throughout its documentation to support its priorities and decisions, while at the same time making proposed budget ‎cuts to the American Community Survey (ACS) and a few other ongoing demographic and economic surveys. The administration itself admits to a likely reduction in data quality, especially for smaller areas, and presumably smaller populations.

The proposed cuts to the ACS are particularly troubling. As an ongoing part of the constitutionally required decennial census, the ACS provides detailed, updated information about the nation’s population and states, counties and cities, towns and rural communities, and neighborhoods every year, giving policymakers an invaluable, timely tool to understand and address the nation’s needs. The ACS produces annual data on education, housing, occupation, disability status, commuting patterns, income and poverty, ethnicity, veterans, and other vital social and economic characteristics. It is also critical because more than $600 billion annually in federal program funds are allocated to states and localities based, directly or indirectly, on data collected in the ACS. Also, because it provides broad-based, up-to-date data, governments and communities are able to assess trends and emerging challenges in a timely way.

Vulnerable population groups will be deprived of equal political representation and access to their fair share of public and private resources.

Because Congress is responsible for ensuring the constitutionally-required accurate enumeration of all Americans every ten years, Congress must step in to right this wrong. Without an accurate count and an informed understanding of the socio-economic needs of our various and varied populations, communities and governments at all levels won’t be able to plan properly for their constituents and they won’t be able to wisely target their resources, thereby potentially wasting precious taxpayer resources. Vulnerable population groups will be deprived of equal political representation and access to their fair share of public and private resources.

Not only must Congress ask Secretary Ross to explain why an accurate census and useful data to inform decision-making are not priorities for this administration, Congress must itself make an accurate census a key priority and work during the appropriations process to ensure an increase in funding that would provide adequate resources to the Census Bureau to allow for a fair and accurate count in 2020.