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Letter to the Hon. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, and the Hon Nita M. Lowey - Ensure 2020 Census Can Count Everyone

Dear Chairman Frelinghuysen and Ranking Member Lowey:

There are few federal programs that directly impact federal, state, local, and private-sector investment decisions more than the Constitutionally-mandated Decennial Census. Yet, despite its central importance to both the public and private sectors, the 2020 Census is at great risk due to historically low levels of funding. Planning and preparation for the 2020 Census is far from where it needs to be at this point, important tests are being scaled back or cancelled, and many communities could be left out of the next census. We cannot allow this to happen. That is why we urge you to provide an additional $428 million above the amount included in the House-passed version of H.R. 3354, when the current continuing resolution expires.

The Census helps to determine the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal funding, business investment decisions, as well as representation at all levels of government. The Administration has requested an additional $187 million for the development and deployment of IT systems that have faced significant delays and cost overruns. While these are important steps that we support, additional funding is needed now for crucial testing, planning, education, outreach and partnership activities, all of which are crucial to the execution of a successful and accurate Census.

These investments have proven to raise awareness, boost self-response and cut costs by reducing the need for expensive follow up to non-responsive households. Additionally these programs are critical in engaging traditionally hard to count populations, including those living in rural or remote areas, as well as immigrant and non-English speaking communities who are already at serious risk of being undercounted in 2020.

The 2020 Census is expected to be the largest and most digitally advanced Census ever conducted, embracing new technology and data collection that could save more than $5 billion over the lifecycle of the Census. Unfortunately, a lack of adequate funding in previous fiscal years has already forced the Census Bureau to cancel 2017 tests of field operations in Puerto Rico, the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota, and the Colville Reservation and off-reservation trust land in Washington.

FY2018 is a critical year of preparation for a successful 2020 Census. During this year, the Census Bureau must make final design decisions for and begin to execute the 2018 End-to-End Census Test. This comprehensive test will be evaluated as a "dress rehearsal" for the 2020 decennial Census, designed to test the readiness of key data technologies, internet response methods, outreach and promotional operations, as well as the management and response process. Unfortunately, due to historic underfunding, the 2018 test has already been scaled back significantly. Operational testing will take place at just one urban site in Providence, RI. The Bureau had to cancel testing planned for sites in rural or suburban communities. This has introduced unprecedented risk to successfully modernize the Census in 2020 and has put numerous populations at risk of not being accurately counted.

Furthermore, FY2018 marks the peak of the Census Bureau's Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, which obtains locality-specific residential and commercial mapping from local jurisdictions across the country. Additionally, the Census Bureau must submit proposed questions for the 2020 decennial Census.

The closer we get to 2020, the more difficult it will be for the Census Bureau to get back on track in order to conduct a full, fair, and accurate Census. Without the additional funding we are requesting, the Bureau will not be able to adequately test new design systems in a thorough and timely way in FY2018, putting the 2020 Census at even greater risk and potentially costing taxpayers billions of extra dollars, should the Bureau be forced to revert back to expensive, outdated and less effective counting methods.

Thank you for considering our concerns on this important matter.

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