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Bush Budget Would Alter ‘Essentialâ€TM Census Surveys

by Brendan Coyne

Mar. 9, 2006 – Among the many programs the White House proposes to cut in 2007 is a survey that academics, policy analysts and lawmakers use to shape legislation or push for social change.

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Under the Bush budget, the 20-year-old Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) would be shuttered by September and replaced with a data-collection system that has yet to be developed.

According to the Census Bureau, SIPP is designed to measure US residents’ economic well-being. The program tracks people’s use of federal aid like income assistance, Medicaid and housing aid. It also gathers and analyzes tax, labor-force and income data. To do so, the program sets up panels of people that are tracked through self-report surveys for anywhere between two and four years. SIPP currently sets up "waves" of panels for continuous measurement and participants can be as young as fifteen.

Presently, SIPP costs about $40 million a year to run, according to the progressive Center for Economic Policy Research think tank. The proposed 2007 federal budget would cut that by more than $30 million, to $9.2 million, with most going toward developing an alternative that would be more cost-effective than the present plan, the Census Bureau said in an assessment of its projected 2007 funding.

The proposed budget does contain enough financial backing to collect one last "wave" of data before the program ends. It would also increase overall funds for the Bureau by about 10 percent, according to an analysis by the Population Association of America, nonpartisan demographers’ organization.

According to a February 3 letter from Carole Popoff, the head of the Census Bureau division that administers SIPP, current Bureau plans for the program would leave it about $6.4 million shy of fully funding data collection for current projects. The Bureau hopes that other government agencies that use the data will cover the expected shortfall, Popoff said.

"The remaining $5.6 million in the FY 2007 budget will be used to begin planning and development for a new approach to providing wealth, income, health insurance, and program participation data," Popoff wrote, noting that the replacement system will be a collaborative effort between several executive-branch bodies, including the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter was posted to a Stanford University-hosted website.

The Census Bureau has not said when the new program will be in place, raising concern among academic, research and advocacy groups. In a letter to Congress last week, 432 social scientists urged lawmakers to fully fund SIPP.

Noting that the SIPP has provided statistical fodder for "thousands of academic papers and government and independent policy reports on poverty, income mobility, and the effectiveness of state and federal programs," the signatories called the program "an essential tool for understanding the effects of policy on Americans’ economic well-being."

"The SIPP is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well-being of American families," the letter reads. "As a longitudinal survey that tracks the same families over time, it provides researches with unique information on the extent to which programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance are successful in meeting families’ basic needs and promoting upward mobility."

Academic and think-tank researchers comprise the bulk of the letter-signers. Nearly all of the organizations represented are liberal or progressive. CEPR organized the letter signing.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the March 9, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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