Challenge #1: Funding Update - Shutdown Edition (January 2019)

On December 22, 2018, the federal government entered a partial shutdown, furloughing approximately 800,000 federal employees. The U.S. Census Bureau is among the federal agencies without an approved budget for FY2019. However, as part of the FY2018 appropriations process, the Bureau received close to $1 billion in FY2019 for 2020 Census preparations. The Bureau estimates that these funds can support 2020 decennial work into February, 2019 without impacting the decennial enumeration. Critics have their doubts.

How did the Bureau run out of funding at such a critical juncture? The 115th Congress adjourned without agreeing on how to best fund the Bureau in FY2019, leaving it to the next Congress to reconcile the FY2019 House ($4.8B) and Senate ($3.8B) funding bills, which differ by approximately $1 billion. The primary difference between these funding levels, according to the Census Project, is that the House bill assumes that between $1.6B and $1.8B of the FY2019 appropriation will actually be spent in Quarter 1 of FY2020. Therefore, the House bill would appropriate only $3.4B in funding for FY2019.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau (2018).

Image courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau (2018).

The Takeaway

Without a quick end to the already historically long government shutdown, the 2020 Census could be in serious trouble. At a time when the program should be ramping up by opening local offices, it’s imperative that Congress support expanded partnership staff and experts, a stepped-up communications campaign, and larger field infrastructure. Right now, the Census is operating on what equates to emergency funding. Before too long, this could have major implications for the decennial census, which is set to begin in earnest in Alaska in January 2020.


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