Sunday, December 21st, 2014

U.S. Census Bureau survey must be filled out by law, but...

Bob Cole, who hosts Austin radio station KOKE-FM's weekday morning show, said on the air last week he couldn’t believe the U.S. Census Bureau told him he was legally required to participate in a government survey.

"In a few days you will receive an American Community Survey questionnaire in the mail," the bureau said in a letter to Cole. The letter said: "Because you are living in the United States, you are required by law to respond to this survey." Cole gave us a copy of a bureau envelope with this nudge outside: "Your response is required by law."

The ACS, sent annually in recent years to a sampling of more than 3 million U.S. households, collects detailed information on population and housing, helping to update the information gathered in every decennial census, the bureau says online. "Estimates from the ACS contribute to providing an important picture of America, and an accurate response to the ACS questionnaire is important," the agency says.

And are recipients required to fill it out?

You bet. A bureau web page singles out Section 121 of Title 13, which says that any adult refusing to answer a bureau survey shall be fined--and the fine can be as much as $5,000, the bureau separately says online.

Except: The bureau has not prosecuted anyone for not filling out a survey since the 1970 census. Bureau spokeswoman Stacy Gimbel Vidal told us the bureau is "really not in the business of prosecuting people who don’t comply."

For that wrinkle, we rated the bureau’s statement Mostly True.

Please, read on (though it’s not required).