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Lawmakers Ask Census Bureau to Add Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) Response Category

OMB has not updated its guidance on whether to include a MENA classification within federal data on race and ethnicity in 25 years.

Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Committee Member Rep. Rashida Tlaib, led Oversight Committee Members in a letter to Shalanda Young, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Robert Santos, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, urging them to update the standards for federal data collection on race and ethnicity to include a Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) response category.  The letter urges the Census Bureau to add MENA as an available response to the race/ethnicity question on the decennial census, and urges OMB to increase the funding for federal programs targeted to the needs of the MENA community comparable to the funding other minority communities receive.

“As you are aware, federal standards for the classification of data on race and ethnicity impact far more than population totals in the decennial census.  OMB standards determine how our political institutions distribute material resources, political representation, and research funding,” the Members wrote.  “These resources are vital components of growth and development for any minority community, particularly those who experience historical barriers to meeting basic needs and accessing support.”

OMB has not updated its guidance on whether to include a MENA classification within federal data on race and ethnicity in 25 years.  In 1997, OMB guidance decided against adding the category and instead reported data collected on individuals from the MENA region within its “White” reference category.  OMB also recommended that “further research should be done to determine the best way to improve data on this population group.”

Since then, the possibility of including a MENA category in our nation’s demographic statistical system has been thoroughly studied, and the benefits of creating a separate racial category for those who identify as Middle Eastern, North African, or Arab have been made clear.  In 2015, the Census Bureau tested a MENA category for the 2020 Census, and in 2017 recommended adding this category to the census.  The Trump Administration overruled the Bureau and excluded the MENA category from the 2020 Census.

In addition to Chairwoman Maloney and Rep. Tlaib, the letter was signed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Rep. Ro Khanna, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment, and Committee Members Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Jackie Speier, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Katie Porter, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Peter Welch, Rep. John Sarbanes, Rep. Robin Kelly and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Click here to read the letter to the Census Bureau and OMB.  

Read more at the House Oversight and Reform Committee

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