July 9, 2019 / 6:24 PM / 6 days ago

Democrat overseeing U.S. Census funding would block form reprint for citizenship question

WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. House Democrat who oversees funding for the U.S. Census Bureau said on Tuesday he would not support money being spent to reprint forms if the Trump administration won court approval to include a contentious question on citizenship.

Printing of the forms for the 2020 census has started and “amending the form could potentially cost hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars,” Representative José Serrano, who chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement.

Serrano said he has “no intention of allowing this flagrant waste of money,” urging U.S. President Donald Trump to give up his fight to add a question about citizenship to the decennial population survey.

The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department, which did not immediately comment on Serrano’s statement.

In January, the government awarded R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, a $114 million contract to coordinate and produce 2020 Census printing materials, including printing more than 600 million documents to be mailed to more than 130 million households.

Civil rights groups and some states strongly object to the citizenship question proposal, calling it a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating. That would lead to a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. The census is used to allot seats in the House of Representatives and to distribute $800 billion in federal services such as schools.

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the United States. The Republican’s hard line policies on immigration have punctuated his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

The Supreme Court ruled on June 27 that administration officials had given a "contrived" here rationale for including the question but left open the possibility they could offer a plausible one.

Trump has said he was considering an executive order here to add the question. The U.S. Constitution specifically assigns the job of overseeing the census to Congress, limiting the authority of the president over it.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who was appointed by Trump, said on Monday that “over the next day or two, you’ll see what approach we’re taking and I think it does provide a pathway for getting the question on the census.”

The Department of Justice filed court papers on Monday announcing new lawyers who will take over handling 2020 census-related cases without disclosing a reason.

Lawyers for New York and the American Civil Liberties Union contested the lawyer shakeup, saying the department had not provided “satisfactory reasons” for the substitutions and told a court that they were now concerned about delays in litigation.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Makini Brice in Washington; Additional reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York; editing by Grant McCool

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