U.S. Rep. Ted Poe
A Texas congressman has been joined by nearly a dozen others in the U.S. House in an effort to push back against the invasive personal questions contained in the Census Bureau’s annual “American Community Survey.”
A bill to make most of the questions in the multi-page interrogation optional has been introduced before by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, but with this year’s GOP majority, the legislation could advance.
His proposal, H.R. 931, has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
It would “make participation in the American Community Survey voluntary, except with respect to certain basic questions” such as name, contact and the number of people living at the location.
Officials with the Home School Legal Defense Association, whose work includes paying attention to the personal information that government collects, were pleased.
Melanie Palazzo, the organization’s congressional action program director, said the survey is sent to some 3 million addresses each year and threatens, under penalty of fines, that residents must provide information such as “how many bedrooms do you have” and “how much is your water bill a month.”
“HSLDA has long been concerned about the level of personal information collected and the invasiveness of the American Community Survey,” she said. “We are grateful to Congressman Poe for introducing H.R. 931 and giving the American people control of what personal information they share with the government.”
She explained that the first census, in 1790, included six questions, and the authority for it comes from the Constitution, which calls for a population survey every 10 years.
“However, in 1992, Congress decided that the information collected in the Census every 10 years wasn’t enough. The American Community Survey was created to be sent to select households every year to provide additional demographics and information to the federal governmen,” she said.
The paperwork demands citizens provide personal details, including place of birth, residence,
education, military service, type of
work and precise location of work. The survey also asks the time they leave home; how
long it takes to get to work; whether they walked, rode a bicycle
or drove; what kind of vehicle they drove; and how many people commuted with
For example, question 14 asks: “a. Does this person speak a language other than English at home? b. What language? c. How well does this person speak English?”
Question 15: “a. Did this person live in this house or apartment 1 year ago? b. Where did this person live 1 year ago?”
Question 16: “Is this person CURRENTLY covered by any of the following types of health insurance or health coverage plans? Mark ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ for EACH type of coverage in items a – h [in 'h' person must specify insurance carrier].”
Question 18 asks: “a. Because of physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions? b. Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs? c. Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing?”
Question 19: “Because of physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?”
Questions 21-23 ask: “In the PAST 12 MONTHS did this person get – a. Married? b. Widowed? c. Divorced? d. Separated? e. Never married? How many times has this person been married? In what year did this person last get married?”
Questions 28: “a. Does this person have a VA serviced-connected disability rating? b. What is this person’s service-connected disability rating?”
Question 29: “a. LAST WEEK, did this person work for pay at a job or business? b. LAST WEEK, did this person do ANY work for pay, even for as little as one hour?”
Other members of the House who have joined in support of the bill are Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Mike Coffman of Colorado, John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Randy J. Forbes of Virginia, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Bill Huizenga of Michigan, Sam Johnson of Texas, Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, Robert Latta of Ohio, Ron Paul of Texas and Mike Pence of Indiana.
“In general,” the law explains, “no criminal penalty shall apply, under section 221 of title 13, United States Code, or any other provision of law, for refusing or willfully neglecting to answer questions in connection with the survey, conducted by the Secretary of Commerce, which is commonly referred to as the ‘American Community Survey.’”
What can be required, members of the House say, is the name of the respondent, the contact information, the date of the response and the number of people at the address.
The issue has been in the news in the past few weeks, with complaints from Dan Arnold, chairman of the Manassas Tea Party in Virginia.
Arnold warned that the way the information was collected, “There’s nothing to stop the feds from showing up at our houses and saying they want to go through our files.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, “Title 13, Section 221, provides for a fine of not more than $100 for refusal or neglect to answer questions; pursuant to Title 18, Sections 3559 and 3571, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the possible fine has been adjusted to not more than $5,000.”
The Obama administration recently proposed spending an extra $44 million to increase the size of the ACS sample population from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent of the population. That would involve about 3.5 million housing units.
WND has reported that prosecutions for failing to respond to Census demands are extremely rare.
During the 2010 Census season, the leader of the Constitution Party of Oregon recommended that people respond only to the “enumeration” part of the Census and said the rest of it is the equivalent of an unpleasant medical procedure.
“The Census has become some sort of involuntary colonoscopy,” said the statement at the time from Bob Ekstrom, the Columbia County chairman for the party. “With the 2010 A.D. Census, the federal government has overstepped its authority. Citizens are balking at demands that they divulge all kinds of private information.”
Ekstrom said, “Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution gives us the legal directives regarding the Census. Anyone who is serious about their citizenship and committed to the defense of the Constitution against enemies, foreign or domestic, should willingly supply the number of persons from your household.”
But he added, “Not anything except the number of persons in your household.”
In 2007, when the American Community Survey portion of the Census Bureau’s responsibilities were under way, spokesman Clyve Richmond told WND, “The Census Bureau has never prosecuted anybody. We try to work with people and explain how useful the information is.”