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CHC Follows Up With Commerce Secretary on 2020 Census Concerns

May 23, 2018
Press Release
Washington, DC – 21 Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), led by Representative Lou Correa (CA-46) and CHC Civil Rights Task Force Chair Representative Darren Soto (FL-09), sent a letter to Secretary Wilbur Ross outlining their concerns with proposed changes to the 2020 census. The inclusion of a citizenship question, as well as, unresolved issues from the 2010 Census jeopardizing the accuracy of the 2020 Census, potentially taking billions of dollars in federal funds and accurate congressional representation from communities across the country. 

 
“The census questionnaire is vital to ensure accurate representation and allocation of resources in our communities for the next decade,” the Members wrote.
 
They continued: “Census data is used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives, to realign congressional districts, and is a factor in the formulas that are used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year to state and local communities. Additionally, businesses and organizations base their financial decisions on census data.”
 
In addition to Rep. Soto and Correa, the following members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus signed the letter: Reps. Lujan Grisham, Gomez, Serrano, Kihuen, Gallego, Castro, Sanchez, Napolitano, Roybal-Allard, Gonzalez, Sires, Gutierrez, Vargas, Barragan, Espaillat, Torres, Grijalva, Aguilar, and Cardenas.
 
The official letter can be found here.
 
TEXT OF LETTER
 
May 23, 2018
 
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20230
 
 
Dear Secretary Ross:
 
On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we write to express our deep concerns regarding the 2020 Census. With the inclusion of a citizenship question and the unresolved issues from the 2010 Census, the response rates from our communities will suffer and have devastating and long-lasting consequences. As you know, the census questionnaire is vital to ensure accurate representation and allocation of resources in our communities for the next decade. Census data is used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives, to realign congressional districts, and is a factor in the formulas that are used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year to state and local communities. Additionally, businesses and organizations base their financial decisions on census data.
 
Given the importance of the census questionnaire and ensuring accurate representation, we request that you provide responses to the following questions: 
 
  • The Census Bureau spent millions of dollars researching and testing how to improve the collection of Hispanic origin and race data and ultimately recommended to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that a “combined question” would yield higher quality data. Since OMB has failed to respond to the recommendation of experts and opted to maintain 1997 Standards for race and ethnicity data collection that force the Census Bureau to use the old two-question format, what will the Census Bureau do to improve the quality of collected data, especially on individuals with multiple races and ethnicities?
 
  • In a recent memo, you acknowledged the possibility that the citizenship question will depress response rates, which is consistent with your testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2017. If this is the case, why would the Department proceed to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census? Additionally, since the Department of Commerce did not independently evaluate the benefit to the Department of Justice or voters protected by the Voting Rights Act, and the Department also cannot fairly assess the costs, then how can the agency say prospective benefits outweighed the prospective cost of adding the question?  If you were unable to answer critical questions about the cost and benefits of adding the question, wouldn’t the sound, scientific decision be to maintain the status quo?
 
  • In 2016, the Census Bureau conducted a content review that asked federal agencies to provide any updates to their federal data needs. At that point the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not express the need for more citizenship data. In 2017, the Census submitted its statutory required planned subjects for the 2020 decennial program, yet citizenship was not included as a subject. Why did the Department accept the DOJ’s request to add the citizenship question despite the DOJ’s failure to submit the question for the Census Bureau’s content review? What urgent reasons arose between 2016 and 2017 that necessitated this last-minute change?  Please cite any examples of matters already resolved in which, with decennial citizenship data, the outcome would likely have been different and more protective of voting opportunity; or of cases in which litigation was not brought but likely would have been brought had decennial citizenship data been available.
 
  • Please explain how your memo’s “option D” will use administrative records (ad. rec.).  Does the Bureau plan to make different and more extensive use of records to verify citizenship question responses than we already understand is planned?  We know the Bureau plans to enumerate some non-responding households with administrative records data, but is it proposing to complete any item left blank with ad. rec. data?  Is this only for the citizenship question?  Is it planning to check actual responses against ad. rec. data for any purpose other than ongoing methodological research?  If extraordinary uses of ad. rec. data to get citizenship information are planned, has the Census Bureau ever employed or would it employ this procedure for any other data point on any other survey?  What justifies an extraordinary effort to obtain data the Bureau did not plan to collect as recently as six months ago? If individuals do not answer the questions or make a mistake on the census, will individuals be prosecuted or fined?
 
  • On May 14 at a National Press Club Luncheon, you mentioned that the Department would spend $500 million in advertising to reassure census participants that their data cannot be used for immigration purposes and that the Department would work with community groups to help explain why community members should participate in the census. Can you please provide a list of the community groups the department will work with regarding census outreach? Regarding the $500 million in advertising, where and when will the Department roll out this advertising campaign?
 
We urge you to provide timely responses as we continue to address the issues of the 2020 Census questionnaire to ensure an accurate and reliable Census.

Respectfully,
 
 
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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), founded in December 1976, is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.