This is a letter published by Gary on Friday, February 22, 2019.

Several of you have approached me or the Funders Census Initiative about interest in a funder amicus brief on the citizenship question before the Supreme Court. As noted below, we are in discussions with litigators about the advisability of such a brief – and if it were to proceed, what it might say and who should be a signatory. In the early conversations, we have learned about the potential benefits as well as harm that could come from such a brief. As we learn more we’ll share our thoughts.

This is an update on efforts to promote a fair and accurate 2020 Census. If you have any questions or want more details, let me know and I can direct you to additional information.

Citizenship Question. As you recall, Judge Jesse Furman, a U.S. district judge in New York, issued an injunction January 15 against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, saying that fewer people would respond to the Census and that the process Ross used was faulty. The ruling said, in part, that Ross violated the Federal Administrative Procedure Act because his decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and that he “alternately ignored, cherry picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decision criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices – a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear cut APA violations.”

Pressed for time – the Census Bureau needs to print the survey – the Administration bypassed the federal appeals court in New York and appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs supported the quick review and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in late April. The Administration has argued that the Commerce Secretary has the right to add questions to the survey and that courts should not be involved in second guessing the Secretary.

Brennan Center for Justice and The Leadership Conference Education Fund are coordinating communications among different players who may file amicus briefs in the case. There has been discussion about a funder brief, but no conclusion yet on advisability. We will share more information if there is a decision to proceed with a funder brief.

Another case (actually two separate cases joined) in California before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg challenging the citizenship question is wrapping up the trial. Another two joined cases in Maryland before U.S. District Judge George Hazel finished closing statements yesterday. This case includes claims that the Administration conspired to disenfranchise immigrant communities by adding the citizenship question. Finally, a case in DC asked for an injunction, claiming that the government needed to do a privacy impact assessment before it could add the citizenship question to the Census. The injunction was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on February 8, but the plaintiff, Electronic Privacy Information Center, says it will press on with the suit. Dates have not yet been set for hearing the case.

Philanthropy’s Role in State Census Work. In November, Grassroots Solutions interviewed leaders in six states – Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington – on the different ways philanthropy is organizing at the state and local level to address the 2020 Census. These states represent different parts of the country and different models for approaching Census work. Since then, states in other parts of the country, such as the South, have developed Census plans that could be added to these case examples. The report, providing short state vignettes, is available here.

Census Equity Fund. The National Philanthropic Collaborative on Census created a fund to provide support to groups in states with high hard-to-count households where there is limited philanthropy. The goal is to raise $8 million for the fund, with about 60% of the funds already raised. The first of four grant cycles has just concluded with 15 grants in 10 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia – to implement targeted Get Out the Count campaigns. These grants all involve state or sub-state coordinated or collaborative campaigns. The RFP for the next cycle will be available on February 25 with proposals due by April 8. You can drop Amy Dominguez-Arms a note for a copy of the RFP or to get more information about the first round of grants.

Upcoming Census Webinars. A list of upcoming Census webinars is available here. To add an upcoming webinar to the list, contact the Funders Census Initiative’s Jocelyn Bissonnette. In addition, be on the lookout for additional details about a monthly Census operations series that the Census Counts Campaign and the Funders Census Initiative will kick off in March. Finally, past webinars that are part of the series on how to message on Census are available online. They include research results presented by leaders from the Arab American Institute and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice,, NALEO Education Fund, National Congress of American Indians, and the Census Bureau.

April 1 Events. April 1 triggers the one year countdown to Census Day 2020. A number of events – organized by funders, philanthropy-serving organizations, and other nonprofits – are being planned around the country. If there is an event you know about, please drop a line to Jocelyn Bissonnette so she can keep track of these events.

Digital Hub for Census Information. The Census Counts Campaign, which is a collective effort of several national organizations spearheaded by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, will be launching its website towards the end of March. The goal is for the site to be a one-stop with easy to find Census information, including on other websites. In the meantime, a placeholder site is running, but it still allows you to register for a newsletter to keep up to date on Census information.

Digital Organizing and Census. Two companies, 270 Strategies and Do Big Things (called 270 Team), have been supported to help organizations working on Census embrace digital outreach strategies. The 270 Team has audited some of the national Get Out the Count hub organizations to help them improve their communications and technology capacities. They also will be launching a “digital academy” at the end of March. This will include a series of videos on using social media, SMS, digital ads, and search engine optimization basics. They will complement the videos with a series of webinars.

In addition to this work, we are forming a Census Digital Organizing Advisory Group, comprised of funders and stakeholder groups, to identify and recommend possible pilots where we can experiment with using newer digital organizing tools for outreach to hard-to-count communities (peer-to-peer text messaging tools, digital relational organizing platforms, etc.). The goal is to use the Census experience to leave a legacy that can help with other civic engagement activities. As this Advisory Group moves forward, I’m happy to share more information.

Free Book on Census Undercounts. Bill O’Hare, a demographer who is an expert on the Census, has written a book about Census undercounts. The book, Differential Undercounts in the U.S. Census: Who is Missing?, is available for free online here. It was written for non-scientific audiences and provides data on undercounts and omission rates, has ideas about why certain groups are undercounted, describes what the Census Bureau is doing to address the problem, and discusses the impact of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Funding at the National and State Level. At the national level, we established a $35 million fundraising goal for the period of October through the 2020 Census. The goal was based on the budgets various organizations engaged in the overall Census strategy gave us. However, some organizations have revised their budgets and newer organizations have joined in the campaign, raising the budget goal to $42.5 million.

Since the announcement of the campaign five months ago, many of you have jumped in with funding commitments. The great news: The budget gap has already been reduced from $42.5 million to around $9 million. Your continued help to raise the resources is still needed so that we can make grant commitments to the groups doing the work.

If you are more interested in funding within your state and you are unsure on where to direct your funding, we might be able to direct you to the lead funders if there is already a collaborative in your state.


Please contact Gary Bass for more information or questions!