It’s pretty much a given that if there’s a poorly thought-out bill being introduced in the House or Senate, a Tea Party Republican is behind it. This is indeed the case with H.R 1078 and its companion bill in the Senate. These were introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), respectively. This time they have their sights on the Census Bureau and the American Community Survey. We all know about the census: every 10 years, according to the Constitution, a census is to be taken of the American population. This is how, among other things, federal funds and the number of House members are decided.
But there is another survey, too. The American Community Survey is an ongoing process of collecting data to help determine where federal dollars need to go between census years. This data impacts everything from school lunches to new hospitals, according to the Census Bureau’s website. The 48 questions range from age and gender to education and disability. Every year about 3.5 million Americans are asked to answer the survey. Well, asked firmly. There is a legal obligation to answer the questions as accurately as you are able.
And that’s where our heroes come in. It seems that Congressmen Poe and Paul (isn’t that cute? sounds like an old vaudeville act, doesn’t it?) are very much against Americans having to follow Title 18 U.S.C. Sections 3571 and 3559, the relevant laws in this case.
“The Federal Government has no right to force Americans to tell the government personal information that they are uncomfortable providing just because the federal government says so,” said Rep. Poe. “I have heard from countless Texans who are uncomfortable with the American Community Survey’s intrusive questions, but they feel intimidated and forced to participate because of the threat of a criminal penalty. Penalizing private citizens for not filling out a government-mandated survey is an abuse of government power.” (source)
Of course, one would expect this from Tea Party Republicans. Goodness knows, we certainly shouldn’t try to help our government run more efficiently. That would undercut their plan of wrecking it entirely so they can get rid of it and enshrine the plutocracy. But the benefits far outweigh the few minutes it takes to answer the survey. There is a lot of federal money that goes to the states for things like infrastructure and schools. If one receives an ACS and doesn’t bother with it (or, in the throes of paranoia, throws it away), one screws the entire area, county and state. It matters not that the Census Bureau is legally obligated to keep all your information private: by law, they can’t share that with anyone, including law enforcement, intelligence and the IRS. Nope, the true paranoid would rather let the money go somewhere else than tell the CB how many bedrooms are in your house or if you have a car.
If you go to that link, you’ll notice that there are no questions there about religion. That’s because, back in 1976, a provision was enacted that makes it illegal for the ACS to ask about your religion:
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body. (source)
Poe and Paul’s bills have a similar provision:
(c)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision under this title– ‘(A) no person may be compelled to disclose information relative to the person’s religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body;
Hmmmm…. I don’t know about you, but those look suspiciously similar. So much so as to be identical, wouldn’t you say? Oh sure, P & P added a (1) and an (A) and used “under” instead of “of” but other than those purely cosmetic changes, it reads exactly the same. Now, why in the world would the 2 Ps want to pass a provision that’s already been passed years ago? They didn’t answer their emails from HuffPo about it so I guess we will remain in the dark about that.
As for the rest of the American Community Survey, the Census Bureau tells us, on this page, that any employee of the CB that discloses information found on an ACS will be punished by 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. That’s pretty heavy. And they seem to be quite serious about it. You can even read their Oath of Non-disclosure.
As far as I’m concerned, this is just more Tea Bagger nonsense designed to make Americans fearful of their government. But giving in to this fear will only hurt communities, counties and states. If Texas and Kentucky or any other state want to not respond to the ACS, then that federal money will go to other places. Places where the citizenry isn’t whipped up into a froth of anti-government fervor.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…