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GAO: Correcting the Census Would Have Little Effect on Federal Spending

November 13, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration narrowly avoided a subpoena today from a congressional subcommittee wanting to force the release of detailed corrections to the 1990 census.

The House census and population subcommittee wanted the Commerce Department to turn over computer tapes containing corrected population figures for millions of chunks of territory, some the size of a city block.

The Census Bureau’s own analysis found the count of 248.7 million missed 5.3 million people. But Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher in July rejected the estimated correction, saying its accuracy also was suspect.

Even before the census was taken, big cities and states went to court demanding the government correct the numbers by using an estimate of the true population.

The subcommittee asked Mosbacher to turn over the estimates. Mosbacher refused, but offered to give the committee a sample amounting to 1 percent of the corrected census information.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Ohio, said that wasn’t enough, and called a meeting today to vote on issuing a subpoena.

Minutes before the meeting was to convene, however, the Commerce Department made a new offer. The agency proposed turning over 10 percent of the corrections.

Sawyer postponed the meeting until Tuesday. ″It is not something we have had to time to evaluate,″ he said.

Meanwhile, congressional auditors said adding in the millions of people overlooked by the census would have little impact on the flow of federal dollars to state governments.

Census figures are being used to determine where the federal government spends $116 billion this year. Changing the census numbers would mean some of that money would be taken from one locality and given to another.

The General Accounting Office studied the effect of correcting the census on three major federal programs: social services block grants, highway programs and Medicaid.

In a report to the Senate government information and regulation subcommittee, auditors said today that in each program, less than half a percent of federal funding would go to a different recipient.

The GAO report said correcting the census would have little effect on where the government spent its money because some programs aren’t just based on population. Others have certain minimum or maximum amounts that ignore population, and still others use information for an entire state, where the changes are relatively small.

In only a handful of cases would the change in funding for a state be more than 2 percent, and in no case more than 4 percent.

However, the report cautioned that even small changes add up over time. ″The effect of such differences becomes more substantial when applied over the course of an entire decade,″ the study said.

Here’s how correcting the census would affect the three programs studied by the GAO:

-Social services: Federal spending, $2.7 billion, wouldn’t change. Twenty- five states and the District of Columbia would get more, and 25 states would get less.

-Highway programs: Federal spending would fall by $6.3 million, about a tenth of a percent. Twenty-seven states would gain, 20 states would lose, and three states and the District of Columbia would get the same amount.

-Medicaid: Federal spending would decline by $86.5 million, about one fourth of a percent. Twenty-three states would gain, 17 would lose, and nine states and the District of Columbia would stay the same.

New York, one of the leading advocates of correcting the census, would lose less than half a percent of its federal social services block grants and highway aid. Medicaid funding would stay the same.

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