Building Philanthropy to Build a Better Florida

2020 Census Citizenship Question Survey

June 18, 2018


On June 8, the Commerce Department (which oversees the Census Bureau) invited the public to comment on the paperwork associated with the 2020 census.  The public has 60 days – until August 7 – to submit comments.

This is one of the few opportunities for philanthropy to make its case that the citizenship question should be removed from the census questionnaire. Regardless of whether public comments will move the Trump administration to reverse its decision, this establishes an important record for the public, Congress and the courts to consider. 

Accordingly, we have developed a sign-on letter for grantmakers only that calls on the Commerce Department to drop the citizenship question.  I hope you will consider signing on and encourage other funders to do so.  We’re excluding philanthropy serving organizations and affinity groups from signing on, although they are playing a leadership role in executing this plan. Hopefully they will be sending in their own comments.

To sign-on, we’ll need the following as you want it to appear on the letter that becomes part of the public record: signer’s name, title, organization name, city, state.  To sign on, add your information at: or send me a note.  We will collect signatures until July 16.

As a reminder, this is not a lobbying activity and is permissible for private foundations


On March 26, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross instructed the Census Bureau to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census.  On March 29, the Bureau sent the planned census survey, including the citizenship question, to Congress, as required by law.  The Bureau is also required by law to seek public comment on the 2020 census “information collection request.” The notice seeking public comment is in the June 8Federal Register here.  The notice provides clarity on how the Census Bureau plans to implement the decennial census and is a useful document for those interested in the census.

The comment period is required under the Paperwork Reduction Act to ensure that the information being collected is necessary for the proper performance of agency functions, including whether it has practical utility. The Census Bureau will use the comments to consider ways to minimize burdens on the public and improve the quality, utility, and clarity of the information collected.  The comments also establish a public record on the agency’s action.

Probably in September or October, the Census Bureau will submit the 2020 census questionnaire to the Office of Management and Budget for approval (under the Paperwork Reduction Act). The Bureau will be required to summarize the comments it received.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC are leading a campaign to encourage groups and individuals to submit comments.  Within philanthropy, we have a three-part strategy to complement their work:

  1. Encourage grantmakers to sign on to a joint public comment letter.  That sign-on letter is attached.  Please help circulate it and encourage other funders to sign-on.  We are limiting signers to only grantmakers, not philanthropy supporting organizations or affinity groups. Thanks to the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality for help in drafting the letter.
  1. Encourage those in philanthropy to submit individual comments.  The Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality is helping us prepare “talking” points that funders can incorporate into their individual letters.  We will send them to you when they are ready, likely June 15 or June 18.
  1. Encourage funders to circulate information to grantees.  The core census stakeholder groups are preparing materials about the citizenship question and submitting comments that we hope you will distribute to your grantees and you will encourage other funders to do the same.  We should have something to send to you by the end of this week or early next week.

In addition to encouraging people and organizations to submit comments in response to the Census Bureau’s request, the core census stakeholder groups are working on activities to stop the citizenship question from being asked on the census. There are four other immediate tasks they are working on:

1.    Opinion research.  The groups have commissioned opinion research to better identify how to talk about the citizenship question.  Once that research is completed, there will be a webinar to brief you.

2.    Litigation.  There are now six complaints filed in different venues with different plaintiffs, each calling for the question to be removed.  The Department of Justice has filed a motion to dismiss one of the cases.  The groups are now organizing briefs to respond to the DOJ motion.  And they are planning on writing and coordinating a host of briefs in support of the six lawsuits on behalf of key players.

3.    Other research.  The groups are working with researchers/academics developing a proposal for research about the citizenship question and undercounts, which will help in many ways including on the litigation.

4.    Advocacy. The groups are doing extensive work to educate lawmakers, policymakers, the media, and the general public about the citizenship issue.

If you have any questions about any of this, please contact the Bauman Foundation.  We happy to answer questions or fill in any blanks.


Gary D. Bass

Executive Director

Bauman Foundation

2040 S St., N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20009

(202) 328-2040


Find More By

News type