Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Census budget slashed

You may recall that I have mentioned the American Communities Survey (ACS) and other enhancements to the Census process, contingient on the budget process. Those improvements have been severely compromised recently this past week, when the House of Representatives shifted $50 million from the Census Bureau to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program.

From Census Briefs:
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) countered that the amendment would "devastate the census" and "impact fundamental missions of the Census Bureau." "The immediate ramifications are a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, irretrievable loss of testing opportunities to identify problems," the chairman warned, referring to efforts to improve coverage of historically hard-to-count populations in the census. Noting that the Census Bureau is "vulnerable" to cuts to fund other popular programs, Rep. Wolf said, "There is not a lobby downtown for the Census Bureau."

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee, also opposed the amendment, calling the offset of census funds "unacceptable." Rep. Mollohan pointed out that "law enforcement uses census data to determine how to allocate manpower and equipment."

Supporters of the amendment did not criticize the Census Bureau’s work, but several noted that the Appropriations Committee had increased the agency’s budget by $72 million over the 2006 funding level. "We are talking about funding cops, the war on drugs, homeland security, or $72 million more for the Bureau of the Census," Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) offered. "To me that is a no-brainer: We fund Byrne grants, which every law enforcement official in America is pleading for." Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) called the choice a matter of priorities. "Right now, we need more help on the streets with crime than we do in the Census Bureau. The mandate for every 10 years is every 10 years." Rep. Souder, who had previously served on the census oversight subcommittee, also suggested that the private sector could pay for some of the Census Bureau’s "other tasks" if they need the data.

Reengineered census at risk, agency says: Following the House action, the Census Bureau issued an "impact statement," saying the proposed funding reduction would force it to abandon plans to use GPS-equipped hand-held computers to collect information from unresponsive households in the census. "Reverting to paper-based operations will add at least $1 billion to the overall cost of the 2010 census," the agency said. The bureau said it would put off aligning the TIGER digital mapping system with GPS coordinates in all counties, a project currently scheduled for completion in 2008. New initiatives to reduce undercounts and overcounts in the 2010 census also would be "compromised", the bureau wrote.

Funding at the House-passed level also would result in cancellation of group quarters coverage in the American Community Survey (ACS), according to the Impact Statement. Group quarters, which include nursing homes, college dorms, military barracks, and prisons, were first added to the ACS this year. "Ultimately not including the GQ population in the ACS means the ACS cannot fully be the replacement for the long form in 2010," the Census Bureau said.

Stakeholders convey support for census funding to Senate: A diverse group of census stakeholders, under the umbrella of The Census Project, sent a letter to all Senate appropriators yesterday, urging support for full funding for the Census Bureau. The letter was signed by 25 organizations representing local governments, scientific professions and researchers, the business community, housing and social justice advocates, and organized labor. The letter is posted here.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, published two editorials, explaining how census data are used to administer effective law enforcement programs and to prepare for and respond to disasters. To Take a Bite Out of Crime: Safeguard the Census and Anticipating the Unimaginable: The Crucial Role of the Census in Disaster Planning and Recovery are authored by Andrew Reamer, Brookings Fellow and Deputy Director, Urban Markets Initiative, Metropolitan Policy Program.

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