Commerce Department Invites Comments on Census Citizenship Question; Funders Census Initiative Gathering Foundation Signatures
The Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, has invited the public to comment on the questionnaire associated with the 2020 census. One specific item on the questionnaire is drawing particular public focus, and a national initiative is currently underway to remove it from the questionnaire entirely.
The question asks: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"
The Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee (CSAC) sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an official recommendation urging him not to include the question, noting that the bureau normally tests a question thoroughly for many years before adding it to a survey. While the question has appeared on the census long form and the American Community Survey (ACS), both of which are sent to a representative number of people, the citizenship question has not appeared on the census survey given to everyone since 1950.
As CNN reports, supporters say this is a common sense question that simply makes sense to ask, while critics argue that the Justice Department has other ways to get citizenship data without interfering with the census, suggesting the change is a political decision.
The bureau is facing six lawsuits from more than two dozen states and cities who want the question removed because of fears that it will discourage noncitizens from participating and harm the accuracy of the census.
In a March 2018 memo, Ross said the Justice Department needs responses from the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act's provisions against racial discrimination. In the memo he states, “The citizenship data provided to DOJ [Department of Justice] will be more accurate with the question than without it, which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond.”
Barbara Anderson, sociology professor, University of Michigan, and chair of CSAC, questioned how asking about citizenship on the ACS was an adequate substitute for testing it on the decennial census.
“I’m not actually certain at all how relevant that is because the ACS is a sample and the census is everybody. I think people are acutely aware of this difference and the greater potential of what you might call misuse or something else of data from the census than from the ACS,” she said.
As recommended by the Public Policy Committee, the CMF Board of Trustees voted in favor of CMF supporting efforts at federal, state and local levels to ensure an accurate, reliable and thorough census count, as required by the U.S. Constitution. We are therefore joining philanthropic leaders across the country in taking this opportunity to urge census leaders to remove the citizenship question from the questionnaire as it has not been appropriately tested (as has been the policy), and the potential negative impact on a fair and accurate census is too great to have it included.
For Michigan, federal funding appropriated based on census data comprises over 40 percent of the state’s budget. It is estimated that for every person not counted in Michigan, it will cost the state approximately $1,800 per person per year for 10 years in lost federal funding. With billions of dollars at risk, it is vital that every effort is made to overcome barriers to people completing the census.
A foundations-only letter urging the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question is being circulated by the Funders Census Initiative under the leadership of the Bauman Foundation. (Scroll to the end of this page to access the letter.) Foundations interested in signing onto the letter are asked to complete a brief online form prior to July 30.
Individuals are also being encouraged to submit public comments via the Federal Register. A sample communication has been created for those interested in submitting an individual public comment. (Scroll to the end of this page to access the sample communication.) Comments are due prior to August 7 and can be submitted online.
Read the March 2018 memo from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Read the July 2018 letter being circulated by the Funders Census Initiative. (Scroll to the end of this page to see the letter.)
Proposal to Expand Voter Access in Michigan Now in Consideration for Mid-Term Ballot
More than 430,000 signatures were recently submitted for a 2018 ballot initiative to expand voting in Michigan by allowing absentee ballots to be cast for any reason and implementing measures such as same-day voter registration.
Currently, absentee voters must be at least 60 years old, out of town when the polls are open or unable to vote on Election Day because of a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.
Organizers of the initiative Promote the Vote say the amendment to the Michigan Constitution “would provide a common sense approach to safeguarding our elections, puts voters first, and removes barriers for working families.”
Promote the Vote outlines seven key aspects of the amendment:
Protect the right to vote a secret ballot.
Ensure military service members and overseas voters get their ballots in time for their votes to count.
Provide voters with the option to vote straight party.
Automatically register citizens to vote at the Secretary of State’s office unless the citizen declines.
Allow a citizen to register to vote anytime with proof of residency.
Provide all registered voters access to an absentee ballot for any reason.
Ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections by auditing election results.
“All these updates would make voting more of a sure thing in Michigan, guaranteeing a fair and accessible process,” said Desire Vincent, associate director of communications, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. “Following in the footsteps of civil rights leaders, we’re continuing their work today. We want every eligible person who can vote to vote, and we want to ensure that every vote will count.”
The ACLU of Michigan, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP’s state and Detroit branches are reported as organizers of the amendment initiative, which exceeded the 316,000 valid signatures needed for the amendment to appear on the ballot this November. The Secretary of State will review the signatures over the next 60 days and present its findings to the Board of State Canvassers, whose members will ultimately determine whether it makes the ballot. Opponents of the proposal will also have the opportunity to file a challenge. Supporters said their next steps are to educate voters about the plan to ensure its passage if it gets on the ballot.
In the past ten mid-term elections, Michigan turn-out has never exceeded 25 percent of eligible voters. The 2014 election was among the lowest of the latest ten years with 17.4 percent participation.
"Democracy is most effective when the most possible people participate," said Kary Moss, executive director, ACLU of Michigan, during a news conference. "Voting should be easier, it should be accessible and it should be something that everybody can do."
“This is not a Democratic issue. It is not a Republican issue. It is not an Independent issue," said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP. “Voting is an American issue.”
Explore Michigan’s voter turnout history.
Learn more about Promote the Vote.
Read about other initiatives expected on the ballot.
Exploring the Facts of Racial Health Disparities
We all get sick sooner or later, but data has proven some fare far worse than others.
In Michigan alone, black Americans are more likely to die from heart disease than any other documented group. The infant mortality rate for black babies is twice that of any other racial group, and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the black community is a staggering three times the rate of anyone else.
Those points were shared at a spring event at Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) in downtown Detroit, hosted by the Health Funders Affinity Group: “InFocus: Southeast Michigan Health Disparities.” Two weeks ago, members and speakers from the InFocus event hosted another community health program in St. Joseph on the health effects of trauma by looking at racial disparities.
CMF member Lakeland Health Foundation brought Dr. David Williams of Harvard University, former appointee at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, to discuss the importance of using scientific evidence to show the biological consequences of racism. Dr. Williams referenced implicit bias, economic exploitation, social stigmatization and geographic marginalization among the many reasons that lead to racial disparities within health in the United States.
He showed the crowd that black men with a college degree still have a lower overall life expectancy than white men with only a high school diploma. Emphasizing the importance of place, Dr. Williams explained to the crowd that treating a patient of color for a medical condition and sending that person back into the same social settings which attributed to the condition is counterproductive and expensive.
In his example, Dr. Williams referenced poor housing conditions that lead to asthma. He said if a mother cannot afford better and has been unsuccessfully fighting her landlord on the quality of her housing conditions, she typically does not have funds to take legal action against her landlord to secure a safe home. Therefore, no matter how many times the doctor sees her child for asthma, the child will continue to become ill by returning to the same household that has not been repaired.
According to a study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altraum, Michigan could see a $92 billion gain in economic output by 2050 if racial disparities were eliminated.
In a May 2018 op-ed, La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, cited the foundation’s 2018 study The Business Case for Racial Equity-Michigan: A Strategy for Growth, saying economic gains would come in employment, income, educational attainment, home ownership and access to health coverage.
Even more, considering disparities in health through a racial equity lens would save more lives across racial backgrounds.
Bridget Hurd, senior director of diversity and inclusion, BCBS, said health professionals must acknowledge the gap in access to care, their own implicit biases and policies that inhibit certain populations.
While some organizations have made gestures for improvement among diversity, Hurd said there is still a long way to go for inclusion, specifically within data collection for health and human service affiliated organizations.
Demographic information, for example, is still unclear. Identification measures on medical forms typically have five racial identities listed: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and White. A person with Asian origins may descend from one of 10 countries but all are included in a single category. This exclusion of demographic data could be harmful for smaller populations.
Sheryl Weir, manager of health disparities reduction and minority health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said everyone can’t be treated the same. She pushed for health professionals to discontinue generalizing groups of people to avoid unnecessary and systemic health inequities.
Weir challenged Michigan philanthropists to consider which children have access to resources based on neighborhoods, schools and parental lifestyle. She said these qualitative data points make a difference in the disparity.
These events allowed CMF members and health professionals to discuss dissolving gaps in health disparities. That work could include cross-sector collaboration through policy to address and promote health equity in Michigan.
Check out the W.K. Kellogg Foundation study The Business Case for Racial Equity-Michigan: A Strategy for Growth.
Learn more about the upcoming November 2018 InFocus event: Accessing Policy from an Equity Lens.
Member Spotlight: DTE Energy Earns National Award for Corporate Citizenship
Detroit-based DTE Energy has been named among the Points of Light Civic 50 - the top 50 companies nationally in corporate citizenship. DTE Energy was the only Michigan company to be awarded this honor and was also acknowledged as the leading energy company nationally.
The Civic 50 honorees are public and private companies with U.S. operations and revenues of $1 billion or more. They are selected based on four dimensions of their U.S. community engagement program: investment, integration, institutionalization and impact.
"DTE Energy is passionate about being a Force for Growth in the communities where we live and serve, and this national award validates our efforts as we continue to make an impact through our work," Nancy Moody, vice president of public affairs, DTE Energy, shared in a company statement. "We recognize our role and the opportunity we have to lead as a corporate citizen who cares about its customers and look forward to building on our momentum for years to come."
The DTE Energy Foundation, a CMF member, primarily funds programs that align with the following six priority areas: arts and culture, community transformation, economic progress, education and employment, environmental progress and human needs. Their support has ranged from grants to food banks and field trips to the Michigan Science Center for Detroit public school students to community programming at Beacon Park and shoreline conservancy. In 2017 the Foundation supported 165 festivals and events throughout Michigan and partnered with nonprofits to support 650 summer jobs for young people as well as adult job training programs.
Read the 2017 DTE Energy Corporate Citizenship Highlights publication.
Learn more at DTEImpact.com.