The Fiscal Year 2017 proposed budget for the Census Bureau – $1.634 billion (a $263 million increase from FY16) – includes $778 million for 2020 Census planning (a $182 million increase from FY16) and $251.1 million for the American Community Survey (ACS) (a $7.6 million increase from FY16).

The CJS bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee on May 24 included $1.47 billion (a $100 million increase from FY16, but $164 million less than the request), and the Senate Appropriations Committee version passed on April 21 had $1.51 billion (a $148 million increase, but $115 million less than the request).

Decennial Census

The requested funding for the 2020 Census will help advance the required IT development upgrades and operation preparations (such as electronic collection and processing of responses), and design upgrades (such as the use of administrative records to update addresses and reduce costly non-response follow-up). The 2020 Census will require counting roughly 334 million people across the U.S. (and Americans overseas) by April 1. It cannot be delayed or re-run.

Two other programs in the budget are essential to an accurate 2020 Census: (1) The Geographic Support System Initiative ($85 million) will help to ensure an accurate address list and digital mapping system; and (2) the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) system ($92 million) will reduce redundancies and jerry-rigged IT solutions in the 2020 Census.

The American Community Survey (ACS)

The requested funding level for the ACS (the rolling survey that replaced the old Census long form, sent to 3.5 million addresses every year) should let the Census Bureau maintain a valid sample size while exploring ways to reduce the burden on respondents and control costs.

Maintaining and improving the size of the ACS sample has been highlighted by several Members of Congress as increasingly important, having seen less-than-perfect ACS data in small rural communities (frequently among the hardest to pull an accurate response) trickle down and hurt those communities’ share of federal funding programs. ACS data drives the allocation of more than $400 billion a year in federal assistance – more than 2/3 of all federal grant funding.

The ACS is America’s only source for comparable (across geography), consistent (across time), timely (updated annually), and high-quality demographic and socio-economic data for all communities, down to the neighborhood and census tract levels (so you can accurately compare downtown New York with rural Kentucky).

MRA’s position: Full funding of the Census Bureau’s FY17 request

  • Full funding of the Census Bureau budget is a key policy priority for survey, opinion and marketing researchers. Accurate data from the decennial Census and the ACS are essential to producing any statistically representative studies in the United States. These programs are also central to promoting economic growth, guiding the prudent allocation of public and private resources, and sustaining a strong democracy.
  • Without adequate funding to fully develop new methods and operations, the Census Bureau cannot implement an accurate, cost-effective decennial Census. That would force the Bureau to fall back on outdated, more costly methods: a pen-and-paper survey. The projected cost-savings from these advancements is expected to be more than $5 billion over the ten-year funding cycle of the 2020 Census.
  • The decennial Census and the ACS are among the few functions of the federal government required by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, sec. 2, clause 3).
  • MRA opposes any amendments that would reduce funding or transfer funding to other programs.
  • MRA opposes amendments that would impede accurate Census data, such as attempts to make response to the ACS voluntary instead of mandatory.