Going into the House of Representatives floor debate on Census funding this week, MRA and our coalition partners in the Census Project knew we were in for trouble -- but not this much trouble. The House voted to shift some of the Census funding in the Commerce Justice State (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013 to other programs -- then voted to neuter, and ultimately kill, the American Community Survey (ACS).
We were already concerned that the proposed funding for the Census in this legislation was below the Obama Administration's request. We were pleased to see Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME)'s amendment to shift $38 million in Census funding for "economic development" funding fail 218-190. Unfortunately, later amendments from Rep. Steven Lynch (D-MA) and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) to shift $4 million and $20 million, respectively, from the Census to state and local law enforcement assistance programs passed by voice votes.
As debate wore on, the House turned to the more specific issue of the ACS. MRA has previously advocated the need to maintain the survey in its mandatory form, primarily because the cost of matching the data quality through a voluntary survey would be potentially exhorbitant.
The momentum behind a bill from Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) has been remarkable to see, so it was not hugely surprising to see his amendment to make the ACS voluntary instead of mandatory (by prohibiting both the Census Bureau and the Justice Department from using funds to enforce penalties in the Census Act (Sec. 221 of Title 13) that make survey response mandatory) pass by a voice vote. The final kicker came in an amendment from Rep. Daniel Webster(R-FL) to eliminate all funding for the ACS, which passed 232-190.
While both provisions seem unlikely to survive Senate involvement, they set a troubling marker for the interests of the House in the Census and present an interesting challenge to the research profession and others that rely upon ACS data to rally to its support.