I can just read the headline now….”Federal Government Threatens 94-year-old Great-Grandmother for Failure to Disclose Value of Water Bill.”
A few weeks ago, my 94-year-old grandmother received the “American Community Survey,” a massive, twelve-page intrusion into privacy, which asks questions such as:
-How many cars you own?
-What kind of energy do you use and how much?
-How much water do you use?
-How much is your house worth?
-What type of health insurance you have?
-How many times have you been married?
-How do you get to work?
-How much do you make and what are the sources?
You can “explore” the form for yourself here.
But, don’t worry. The U.S. Census Bureau assures your privacy is protected because all Census Bureau employees take an oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. But, they’re missing the point. Why does our federal government need to invade our privacy and gather this type of information about us in the first place?
According to the Bureau:
The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year -- giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.
Sounds like the feds need to know how “best” to redistribute our tax dollars to me. I’m not quite sure how knowing how many times you’ve been married and when you were married help to determine how to “distribute” taxpayer money.
In the past, the information gathered by this survey was only sent out as the “long form” of the ten-year Census; but apparently, that changed in 2010 when there was no “long form” version of the Census. Again, per the ACS website:
The American Community Survey (ACS) is conducted every year to provide up-to-date information about the social and economic needs of your community.
Translation: The government needs to know how they can best “help us” by filling our “social and economic needs.” Where’s that clause in the Constitution? Sounds like central planning to me, something the federal government has no business doing.
Apparently, responses to the long form of the decennial census were declining because many Americans found it intrusive (go figure). So, in 1995 the Census Bureau began looking into another way to gather the “data.” Initial testing of the ACS began the following year. The survey was fully implemented in 2005 and by 2010, the Bureau had collected enough data to issue it’s first estimates of where the federal government’s hand-outs, er, I mean, assistance were most needed.
According to the Bureau, the federal government is sending 250,000 of these surveys out every month. Three million random addresses each year are ordered to participate in the survey. How much does that cost?! Eventually, every household in America will receive one. Ironically, in the past year, only two members of my family have received it—my 94-year old widowed grandmother and my 89-year old great aunt, who is suffering from severe dementia.
A letter that comes with the survey, as well as a “reminder” that shows up a few weeks later, states that response to the survey is required by law and refusal to comply is punishable by a fine of $5,000. The letter cites Section 221 of Title 13, Chapter 7, and Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559 of the United States Code.
Can you imagine the stress these threats by the government caused these two elderly ladies living on fixed incomes? My grandmother, who suffers from blood pressure issues, began having nose bleeds and heart palpitations, and has been unable to sleep well since receiving these repeated threats from the federal government. I hope they’re proud.
After some research, I discovered there is a battle going on in Washington to try to end the mandatory requirement to reply to this survey. There are bills in the House (H.R. 931) and Senate (S. 3079) to make participation in the survey voluntary and prohibit penalties for non-compliance. Both of these bills have been referred to committee, and unfortunately have very little chance of passing. However, in early May, the House passed a cost-cutting measure that would eliminate funding for the ACS, which is “pending in the U.S. Senate as part of a broader funding bill included in the federal government's 2013 proposed budget.” As we all know, this budget proposal is currently languishing in the Senate, who hasn’t passed a budget in nearly 1,150 days.
It is interesting that this battle is being fought along party lines. It shows how out of touch Washington really is. You see, my grandmother considers herself somewhat of a socialist, and thinks that my involvement in the Tea Party movement is absolutely terrible. But, when she received this survey, she was offended. She was startled that her benevolent, trusted, and all-knowing government would want to know such intimate details about her. She couldn’t understand why they would need such information. Obviously, even the most “liberal” Americans can sense this questionnaire is an intrusive over-step of the federal government’s authority and a departure from its proper purpose.
So, while the inept politicians are arguing in Washington, what is my grandmother (and the rest of us) to do? Well, after a phone call to the Census Bureau, and explaining that since my elderly grandmother does not handle her finances and doesn’t know the answers to many of the questions, the representative said that if she doesn’t know the answer, to just write a “D” next to the question (for “don’t know”). In her case, writing a “D” is appropriate because she is answering the questions to the “best of her ability.” But, what about the rest of us?
After further research, I discovered this posting on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) website. In a response to letter from a member of Congress asking for the legal authority under which the Census Bureau is conducting the ACS, and the Bureau's legal authority to require recipients to respond, the GAO concludes that the Bureau does indeed have this authority, but then says:
While Census clearly has authority to conduct the ACS, we found no public laws, committee reports, or other congressional actions in which Congress has required the Bureau to develop and implement the ACS….It is clear that Census was not reacting to congressional direction in developing the ACS but acting on its own initiative...
So basically, unelected bureaucrats created the ACS. It was not created under any law. However, according to the GAO, because Congress conducted oversight hearings in 2000 and 2001, and has provided funding for the survey since its inception as a pilot program in 1996, Congress has by default approved and enacted the legal authority to conduct the survey and require response to it under the United States Code.
Many Americans aren’t waiting for their elected officials to “fix” this problem. They’re taking matters into their own hands. If you want to read how Americans are reacting to the survey, and some of the humorous ways in which they have responded (or not), just check out this link.
By the way...if you think this is bad, just wait until I post my blog about the bureaucrats in Harrisburg harassing my 88-year-old mother-in-law about PA state taxes she's not paid when she's never lived or worked in the Commonwealth.