A fair and accurate census is a critical mechanism for ensuring that no community's needs or voices are overlooked. The census directly affects the distribution of political representation and the equitable allocation of more than $675
billion in federal funds to support programs and improvements in education, public health, transportation, and more. Beyond federal uses, census data is used to redraw state legislative boundaries and local governments use census data to redraw their political subdivisions. Businesses of all types use census data to identify markets, select business locations, make investment decisions in plant, equipment, and new product development, determine goods and services to be offered, and assess labor markets. Nonprofit organizations rely on census data to better understand and serve the needs of our program participants and constituencies.
As you may have heard, the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, directed that the 2020 decennial census questionnaire ask individuals whether they are U.S. citizens. The stated reason for adding the controversial question, which has not appeared on the questionnaire since 1950, is to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a
issued to justify the decision.
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (Article I, sec. 2, clause 3) among the 50 states. The apportionment base is composed of the population of each state counted in the census. Both Republican and Democratic administrations, through the U.S. Department of Justice, have confirmed unequivocally that the Constitution requires a count of all persons living in the United States on Census Day, regardless of citizenship or legal status. In fact, in adopting the 14th Amendment, Congress rejected proposals to allocate seats in the House of Representatives based on voter-eligible population, rather than total population. A unanimous ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 affirmed that "representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote."
Nonprofits have expressed concern that the citizenship question will create fear among certain populations and depress participation. Additionally, groups working to promote a full and complete census are troubled that the government will use responses as an opportunity to take actions against individuals, families or whole communities. That fear will most certainly further
depress the number of responses
, producing an undercount that disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable communities in society.
NAO believes that nonprofits must engage in learning about and advocating on the 2020 census. Questions regarding citizenship are unconstitutional and illegal. They should not be included. If you agree, contact your
U.S. Representative and Senators
and alert your staff, board and program participants to do the same.