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What’s New in Civic Tech: Census Bureau Delays ACS Data

Plus, Kansas City, Mo., launches new phase in digital equity work; Wisconsin unveils new broadband grants; Philadelphia debuts an online tax center; and a data map tackles chain restaurants.

The Census Bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md.
The Census Bureau's headquarters in Suitland, Md.
(Census Bureau)
The U.S. Census Bureau has announced the first-ever delay in the release of the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates, citing COVID-19 nonresponse challenges and noting “the need for quality ACS data.”

This delay comes as dozens of national and local civic and business groups wrote to the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations committee leaders, requesting larger investments in modernizing Census operations. Specifically, these local-level stakeholders are advocating for modernizing the Census’ data infrastructure, as well as enhancing ACS.

As it pertains to modernizing the data infrastructure, the groups are calling for the bureau to “harness currently available big-data technology and methodology to reduce respondent burden and realign” the current data that comes from multiple sources. In regard to enhancing ACS, the letter calls for the flexibility to combine data sources with ACS.

The Census Project co-director Howard Fienberg addressed the delayed data in a statement, noting, “Today’s announcement is a shock to the system of broad-based census data users, and a clarion call for the need to invest in Census modernization if the nation is to have the most reliable, trusted and timely data on our economy and communities to drive our decision-making.”

The ACS 5-year estimates are among the most influential data regularly released in the country, affecting as it does government and business decision-making. After the announcement, a group of former Census Bureau directors announced their support for the way the delay was handled, happening as it did in the face of unprecedented challenges and adversity due to the pandemic.

“We commend Census Bureau’s many adaptations over the last year and a half to continue its work across the decennial census and more than 130 surveys, including the American Community Survey during the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the former directors wrote. (Zack Quaintance)

KANSAS CITY, MO., LAUNCHES DIGITAL KC NOW PROJECT TO BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE


Kansas City, Mo., has launched Digital KC NOW, the latest element of a larger initiative to build digital equity in the city.

Digital KC NOW is a project in partnership between the city, the nonprofit aSTEAM Village, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City supported by funds through the American Rescue Plan.

The project aims to help underserved residents in the city’s 3rd District with equitable Internet access and digital skills training. The role of aSTEAM Village is to hire and train a youth workforce from the district to equip them for the needs of today’s economy. The importance of being able to effectively use the Internet has been underlined by the pandemic, which compelled a shift to remote work, remote learning and remote interactions with government.

The project complements the city’s other equity-centered efforts, like the creation of an LGBTQ Commission, a chief equity officer position and an Office of Racial Equity and Reconciliation. (Julia Edinger)

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $100M IN BROADBAND GRANTS


A total of $100 million will be available for the next round of grants from the State Broadband Expansion Grant Program in Wisconsin, officials announced this week. The funding comes from the 2021-2023 biennial budget, which included about $129 million for broadband.

The State Broadband Expansion Grant Program in Wisconsin has awarded 268 grants since its establishment. Over 20,000 businesses and 296,000 homes have been connected or are in the process of being connected to high-speed Internet.

The program’s grants complement previous investments for broadband expansion in the state. The funding also builds on federal dollars Gov. Tony Evers has allocated toward broadband expansion.

More information about the program and previous grant recipients as well as information about how to apply for the next round of funding can be found on the Public Service Commission’s website. (Edinger)

PHILADELPHIA LAUNCHES NEW ONLINE TAX CENTER


Philadelphia has launched a new online tax center aimed at making it easier for residents and businesses alike to file taxes while simultaneously improving government efficiency.

The Philadelphia Department of Revenue announced the launch of the new tax system this week, noting that it’s a cloud-based solution that replaces a 35-year-old database. This week sees the first phase of the system’s implementation, which includes a new bilingual, public-facing website dubbed the Philadelphia Tax Center. So far, the center includes the city’s major business taxes, with plans to add property taxes in October 2022, which will mark the center’s second phase.

Currently, the center can be used to file and pay the following taxes: business income and receipts tax; wages, earnings and net profits tax; school income tax; liquor tax; and beverage tax. The real estate tax will be incorporated next year.

There is a new streamlining aspect to the project as well. Taxpayers who create a username and password for the center can view and manage multiple tax accounts in a single place. They can also apply for payment agreements online and access their account history. In addition, users can assign managers — including bookkeepers and tax preparers — to use their accounts. Overall, users get more control, insight and up-to-date visibility for their taxes, as well as the ability to request assistance or other communications from the Philadelphia Department of Revenue.

Finally, the city has created an online guide, complete with printable resources and videos, for the new site, too. (Quaintance)

DATA VISUALIZATION: CITIES WHERE CHAIN RESTAURANTS DOMINATE


This week in fun data maps, CityLab’s MapLab feature recently spotlighted a visualization of the cities in the country where chain restaurants are most prevalent.

This work comes in the wake of roughly 17 percent of restaurants in the United States closing during the first year of the pandemic, according to information from the National Restaurant Association. Those closures, however, did not affect many chain restaurants, which saw sales soar and, in some instances, turned to expansion.

This chain restaurant map is the work of Clio Andris, an assistant professor of city and regional planning and interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Andris worked with graduate student Xiaofan Liang on the project. To create this map, they used a data set of nearly 800,000 restaurants in the U.S., computing the total number of restaurants with the same name in order to create an average chain score for cities. Essentially, it measures the likelihood of finding the same restaurants in other parts of the country.

The map is online via the Georgia Institute of Technology, complete with an accompanying paper. (Quaintance)
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine