Bush Administration Abandons Plan to Eliminate Key Census Survey

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May 31, 2007

Bush Administration Abandons Plan to Eliminate Key Census Survey

Statement from Heather Boushey, Senior Economist, Center for Economic and Policy Research 

Contact: Liz Chimienti 202-293-5380 x110

For Immediate Release: May 31, 2007

Washington, DC: One week after 446 social scientists signed a letter urging Congress to continue funding the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the Bush Administration has reversed its decision to eliminate the program.

Bush's FY08 budget called for the elimination of the SIPP. Now that it has decided to continue the program, it is unclear how it will be funded. Unless the Bush administration modifies its budget request, Congress may not be able to allocate funds for the SIPP because President Bush has vowed to veto any appropriations above his budget requests.

A letter sent yesterday from Representative Wm. Lacy Clay, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, to Census Bureau Director Charles Louis Kincannon, requests a cost estimate for the survey. According to the letter, “it appears that an increase in the Commerce- Justice- Science Appropriations bill will be necessary to fund any new SIPP panel in FY 2008.”

Statement from Heather Boushey, Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which coordinated the sign-on letter:

“On behalf of the 446 social scientists who signed a letter urging Congress to maintain funding for the survey, we applaud the Administration’s decision. The SIPP is the nation’s only survey that collects essential data on the effectiveness of Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, unemployment insurance and other programs.

Now that the Administration has acknowledged that the SIPP is an essential survey for policymaking, we encourage the Administration to request the funds necessary to conduct a sufficient survey. We are concerned that the Census Bureau cannot conduct an adequate survey without additional funding.

The Census Bureau has recently indicated that, without additional funding, it will start a new SIPP panel with only half of the standard number of respondents. This is unacceptable. Interviewing only half as many people would severely limit researchers’ ability to examine particular government programs, sub-populations and state-level data. Many government programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or child care subsidies, affect only small shares of the U.S. population, so a smaller sample would not provide enough data to properly assess these programs. It would also make it difficult, if not impossible, to assess demographic trends at the state level (such as wealth, childcare usage, etc.), even for larger states like North Carolina or Washington.

Although the plan to replace the SIPP originated as a budget issue, for the past year Census Bureau officials have tried to provide a scientific justification. They argued that the survey’s attrition rate (the rate at which respondents drop out of the survey) was too high. However, reducing the sample size only exacerbates this problem. It would be disingenuous of the Census Bureau to assert that a half panel is sufficient when attrition has been their main concern for the past year.”