Senate Passes Bill That Includes Census Funding

Census watchers are excited about the passing of a bill that contains appropriations for the Year 2000 Census.

The bill, S. 2260, which allocates money for the Commerce, Justice and State departments, passed last week by a vote of 99-0 and will provide $33 billion to the three agencies. The Senate accepted everything the White House had requested for the decennial census' budget, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department, including $848.5 million for census activities in FY99.

The money would go to several initiatives, including completing the development of the address list, awarding the contract to print the questionnaires, actually printing the questionnaires, finishing and evaluating the dress rehearsal and opening up hundreds of local census offices around the country. It also would ensure that both the short-form and the long-form questionnaires are used.

As for sampling, John Raffeto, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill “simply shows the committee's desire to see that any sampling techniques used are done in a nonpolitical fashion.” TerriAnne Lowenthal of the Coalition to Preserve Census Data, Washington, said the Senate was silent on the issue and is leaving the controversy up to the House. Indeed, Democrats and Republicans have been arguing for years about statistical sampling — in which the Census Bureau first counts households through a direct mailing and then follows up with sampling to account for those who are missed in the initial effort.

In late May, President Clinton defended the sampling plan the U.S. Census Bureau has proposed for the 2000 census, saying its proposal is an “attempt to make sure that every American is really and literally counted.” Some say Republicans fear that sampling would lead to increased population counts in largely Democratic areas and would ruin the GOP's chances of retaining control in the House. Others say Republicans oppose it because it is a failed method that will lead to a failed census.

As a result, many are waiting for the House version of the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill, which asks for $956 million. This bill also asks that the second six months of funding not be made available to the Census Bureau until the president submits another request by March 15. Congress then would pass a bill by March 31 to release the second six months of funding.

Liz Hickey, a spokeswoman for the House subcommittee on the census, said this gives Congress and the administration a chance to have a “debate and make a decision about sampling, because the president will have to come to us with the projections for the cost of doing a sampled and a nonsampled census. If they were to get the entire 12 months for funding, it's unclear that they would consult with Congress. [The administration] might just go ahead and do their own version of a sampling plan.”

DMers will have to sit and wait until the House bill is passed — possibly this week — to see what happens next.

“The House and the Senate will reconcile the differences between the two bills in conference,” Lowenthal said.

Regardless, Lowenthal said it is encouraging that the Senate allocated the full amount the bureau said it needs because “that will ensure that critical preparations — like printing the questionnaires and finishing the list of addresses — will get completed on time.”

In other news, Dan Miller (R-FL), chairman of the subcommittee on the census, and Rep. Rick White (R-WA) recently introduced legislation that would add two technology-related questions to the long-form questionnaire:

* Does your household have a personal computer?

* Is your household currently connected to the Internet through a personal computer or other device?

Miller praised White, who wrote the legislation and whose district includes Microsoft Corp., saying “it is appropriate that we use the 2000 Census to get a handle on just how widespread home computers and Internet access have become. We also need to know what areas of the country do not have access.”

Lowenthal said Miller and White understand the value “of collecting data on the long form and identifying an emerging data need.” Insiders said the questions may not get added because it is so late in the process.

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