GIA’s Board Writes to Congress Expressing Concerns on the Proposed Changes to the 2020 Census

June 15, 2018

Jennifer Jessup
Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer
U.S. Department of Commerce, Room 6616
14th and Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Ms. Jessup,

Grantmakers in the Arts, the national association of private and community foundations, corporate funders, and government agencies that support communities across America by funding nonprofit arts organizations and artists, is writing to express our strong concerns about the proposed changes to the 2020 decennial census, including the Administration’s addition of a question on citizenship status. The 2020 decennial Census, if conducted improperly or incompletely and with the harmful impact of a citizenship question, will severely hamper the ability of our nation’s citizens to fairly benefit from Federal and State programs which support the arts and arts education. The question on citizenship status alone is especially troubling given the impact it will have on the ability of the census to accurately count all those living in and contributing to our nation.

The impact of the decennial census upon Americans’ access to and benefit from the arts and arts education is clear. Federal programs at the U.S. Department of Education that support arts education are allocated by population and poverty information gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau’s vital work. Funding for senior programs that incorporate the arts as a means to enrich the quality of older American’s lives rely on population data from the U.S. Census for State allocations. Head Start’s funding is facilitated by census data. This allows low-income children an otherwise unreachable opportunity to learn and develop through the arts, so they can succeed in school and in life. Without an accurate count conducted through a multitude of means - including canvasing and paper forms for those that can not be reached through the internet - low-income individuals, seniors and other at-risk populations will have their access to the arts curtailed or lost.

Unfortunately, the accuracy we need through our decennial census efforts will be greatly hampered by the addition of a question on citizenship status. This question is not only harmful to gaining an accurate count, but also unneeded. Citizenship status is already collected through other U.S. Census Bureau initiatives such as the American Community Survey. Requesting that individuals respond to census forms or census employees’ requests to disclose citizenship status will only depress the response rate, distort the data collected, and alter where Federal and State funds for education, seniors, the arts and many other social services are allocated.

Equally worse to the impact of a citizenship question on social programs is that many Americans will be placed in legislative districts that do not reflect the true nature of where our population is located around the country. At the State level, census data is used to draw legislative boundaries, affecting State and Congressional legislative elections. District boundaries should and must be drawn on an accurate count of all those living in the United States, those who are U.S. citizens and others who are living in this country. Failure to follow this route jeopardizes the constitutional right to be represented by elected officials.

Local school districts also use census data to determine where to place new schools and how to revise school attendance boundaries, thus further impacting how and whether children receive access to the arts and arts education in schools. When the census is not adequately funded or when the nature of census questions, as well as how such questions are asked, inhibit its accuracy, the equitability of funding and legislative decisions are called into question. So too is the ability of the Census Bureau to adequately reach hard-to-count populations in its undertaking.

Unfortunately, the Administration’s budget requests to support the decennial census have been inadequate. Both the 2018 and 2019 budget requests by the Administration did not provide sufficient funding to keep the work of the decennial census on track. Fortunately, twice in the past two months, Secretary Ross has belatedly argued for additional funding and Congress has seen fit provide additional funding to the Census Bureau and allow for added spending flexibility to keep up with this work. These funding infusions have been critical, but they required bipartisan support in Congress to realize and do not make up for past funding shortfalls.

While each decennial census is a huge undertaking, the 2020 census marks the beginning of an online-first collection effort, with massive new technology needs to fulfill. Waiting until funding is already past due and test runs have been postponed or delayed has jeopardized the ability of the decennial census to accurately produce the accounting of our population. We would urge the Administration to work closely with Congress to ensure that future funding needs, including funding in Fiscal Year 2019, are met so the Census remains on pace to accurately conduct this enumeration. We also urge that the Bureau not abandon the use of paper forms while it seeks to use an online-first collection approach. Forgoing the use of paper forms will make it especially hard to accurately count hard to reach individuals and communities.

As grantmakers that focus on the arts, we often use our resources to bolster community resources for the arts in areas that do not receive sufficient Federal and State funding. An inaccurate or undercounted census would spread our resources more thinly and result in less, rather than more, access to the arts, arts education, and other critical income and social programs for our nation. This would be a huge loss for equity in cultural access for many low-income individuals across the country. Given that talent and creativity know no zip code, we as a nation would be poorer for it as well. Thank you for your attention to our thoughts on this issue.


Edwin Torres, President & CEO
Grantmakers in the Arts

Angelique Power, Chair
Grantmakers in the Arts