Already underfunded, the 2020 census could miss Latinos, African Americans and certain other populations at disproportionately high rates because the 10 percent hike in funding for it requested by the Trump administration is not enough, civil rights groups said Thursday.
Trump's 2018 budget proposal for the U.S. Census Bureau is lower than what the Obama administration requested in 2017. Should Congress approve Trump's proposal, that, combined with congressional underfunding of the census in previous years, could mean inaccurate counts, particularly of minority communities.
The bureau is already "in the hole" financially with a congressional mandate that it spend less or no more than it did in the 2010 census ($13 billion) even while the U.S. population has grown, largely because of increases in the Latino and Asian populations. Agency officials have already decided to call off 2017 field tests in several areas in Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S., citing budget concerns.
Unlike other agencies, the Census Bureau has a 10-year budget that "spikes" leading up to the decennial count, and decreases in the several years following the count.
"The (2018) funding request is unrealistic, disappointing, and too low. Congress keeps cutting back on the funding and is going in the wrong direction," Terri Ann Lowenthal, formerly with the House Census and Population Committee, said in a call with reporters Thursday.
A lack of full funding could be very detrimental to Latinos, the nation's fastest-growing population group, which has already been undercounted in the past, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
"Our priority is to ensure that the historic undercount of millions of Latinos in the decennial census is not repeated in 2020. Latinos are the nation's second-largest population group and one of every six Americans is Latino, as is one in every four of the nation's children," Vargas said.
"A successful 2020 census is not possible if Latinos are not accurately counted. Congress' refusal to adequately fund the census for its (enumeration) preparation and ramp up for 2020 is placing the accuracy and success of the 2020 census at serious risk. We're in the home stretch getting ready for the enumeration. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that the census is conducted fairly and accurately. The nation doesn't have a second chance to get the census right."
The bureau estimates it missed 1.5 million Latinos in the 2010 census, a number advocate groups have considered to be low. A NALEO report released earlier this month says the undercount includes at least 400,000 Latino children.
Census numbers are used to implement, monitor and evaluate a range of civil rights laws and polices, said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Some of those laws and policies affect voting, the drawing of voting district boundaries which can affect the partisan tilt of an election district and how federal money is distributed. Inaccurate counts could mean funds are unfairly divided to areas of the country
But it's not just about funding to conduct the actual count, Lowenthal added. Adequate funding is needed now and in the next years leading up to the actual count to ensure the agency is prepared to conduct an accurate count.
"We urge Congress to go directly to the bureau, find out how much it needs for 2018, to keep all of the testing, the dress rehearsal, the development of communication campaigns, and the language materials and the like to be on schedule and comprehensive."