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Census Bureau Gears Up for Annual Questionnaire

From Associated Press

The Census Bureau plans to start mailing questionnaires in the next several months for a new annual survey designed to replace the “long form” census sent to homes at the start of each decade.

Bureau officials had feared it would fail to receive from Congress money to implement the “American Community Survey,” now being tested.

House and Senate negotiators agreed, however, to provide $146 million in the next budget for the survey, the amount the bureau said was needed to move out of testing.

Census Director Louis Kincannon said this week that 2005 was crucial to the survey. Kincannon had warned that the bureau would have to scrap the project and start planning for another long form for the next head count in 2010 if the bureau did not receive the $146 million.

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Questions asked on the new survey would be nearly identical to the detailed queries posed on the long form, covering education, income, commuting and other detailed topics.

The biggest benefit was that it would supply federal and state governments data every year instead of every 10 years to help them plan money distribution, schools construction and social service programs, Kincannon said.

“It’s important to realize that the data is very much needed,” Kincannon said. “It’s a significant event for the Census Bureau.”

About 250,000 homes each month will be asked to complete a form. The first results, for states, counties and towns with more than 65,000 people, would be released in the summer of 2006. Data for municipalities with fewer than 65,000 people would be released in following years.

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Bureau officials hope that Americans will be more familiar with the census process and worries over privacy will be soothed, if data are collected and released annually.

Federal law requires that personal information from census forms be kept confidential for 72 years.

Last-minute details have to be worked out about the overall federal budget, but President Bush has indicated he will sign the spending package.

The bill includes a provision inserted by Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) to require the bureau to keep “some other race” as an answer for the census question that asks about a person’s race. The other options are “white,” “black,” “Asian,” “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander” and “American Indian or Alaska Native.”

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The bureau has been testing the elimination of “some other race” as an option. One rationale behind the test was that Americans had more options when describing their background because, starting in 2000, they could check off one or more races.

Many minority and civil rights groups balked, saying it would remove an option that more than 15 million people, mostly people of Hispanic ethnicity, identified with on the 2000 census.

The government considers race separate from ethnicity. Hispanics can belong to any race.

Serrano, who identified himself as Hispanic and checked off “some other race” on his census form, said the language was important because millions of Latinos “do not fit neatly into one of the Census Bureau’s race categories.”

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Serrano is ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees bureau funding.


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