WASHINGTON - Researchers and legislators are rallying to block a Bush administration plan to scupper a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for millions of low-income and retired Americans.
President George W. Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins this October, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).
The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues ranging from mass layoffs to employment discrimination.
Social scientists, public policy makers, and legislators helped thwart the previous administration plans, which had targeted the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Opponents of the plan to axe SIPP said they hoped for a similar success.
By mid-day Wednesday, some 415 liberal and conservative economists and social scientists had signed a letter to be sent to Congress Thursday urging that the survey be fully funded because it ''is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well being of American families.''
A group of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives reportedly are leading a drive to get lawmakers to sign a similar letter defending the survey to be sent to the White House.
Founded in 1984 after six years of development, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service, and education programs.
''We need to know what the effects of these programs are on American families,'' said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, which is spearheading the counter-offensive.
''SIPP is designed to do just that,'' Boushey told OneWorld, adding that the survey had proved invaluable in tracking the effects of changes in government programs. So much so that the 1996 welfare reform law specifically mentioned the survey as the best means to evaluate the law's effectiveness, she said.
Supporters of elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. Rather, they would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.
Defenders of the survey countered in their letter that the cost was justified as SIPP ''provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic, and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs.''
For example, Boushey said, the survey revealed that school lunch programs were missing many children whose parents were unemployed for a couple of months or longer, pointing the way to improvements in those programs.
The fight over SIPP evokes at least two similar campaigns of recent years.
In 2004 and 2005, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research led a successful campaign to reverse a Bush administration plan to drop questions on the hiring and firing of women from employment data collected by the BLS. Pressure from researchers, policy designers, and lawmakers proved essential to that success, the group said.
In 2003, similar advocacy prompted a budget shuffle and saved the monthly BLS Mass Layoff Statistics report.
The Labor Department, citing a shortage of funding, had said it would do away with the research, which detailed where workplaces with more than 50 employees closed and what kinds of workers were affected. Federal and state social service agencies used the data widely.
The cost of the monthly reports--about $6.6 million per year--had come from a $30 million discretionary budget used by the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration to finance pilot projects designed to demonstrate ways to help displaced workers find new jobs.
Demand from the research and public policy communities eventually forced the government to fund the research and reporting through the regular BLS budget, an official at the federal government's principal labor fact-finding agency told OneWorld.
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