Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-190 to defund the American Community Survey (ACS), one of the Census Bureau’s most significant demographic data-collection programs in addition to the decennial census. The ACS, conducted annually, effectively replaced the long-form of the census and provides important data to planners and policymakers at every level of government. The program’s elimination is just one assault in a long line of legislative actions against transit and cities by the House.
The impetus for the cut is that the ACS is too prying and too costly. What supporters of the bill are forgetting, however, is that the data the ACS provides informs how hundreds of billions of dollars are spent and which programs they go to, including those that concern transit, housing, and urban infrastructure. Elimination of funding not only has a major impact on public policy, but would also effectively kill academic research and private economic development programs vital to the health of cities. The Atlantic has a good synopsis on what kind of effects this move has:
The issue is that the information collected in the ACS is used heavily by the federal government to figure out where it will spend a huge chunk of its money. In a 2010 report for the Brookings Institution, Andrew Reamer found that in the 2008 fiscal year, 184 federal domestic assistance programs used ACS-related datasets to help determine the distribution of more than $416 billion in federal funding. The bulk of that funding, more than 80 percent, went directly to fund Medicaid, highway infrastructure programs and affordable housing assistance.
Reamer, now a research professor George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy, also found that the federal government uses the ACS to distribute about $100 billion annually to states and communities for economic development, employment, education and training, commerce and other purposes. He says that should the ACS be eliminated, it would be very difficult to figure out how to distribute this money where it’s needed.
House Republicans are forgetting that there is a lot of money, both private and public, directly and indirectly attached to the ACS. While the Senate won’t likely reciprocate defunding the program, this move puts the program in a dangerous political crossfire that jeopardizes funding for cities whenever voters feel like electing someone new every election cycle. That makes it a risk too great to toy with. Call your congresspersons today to oppose the cut.