The government is on schedule in its planning for the 2000 census, but it cannot afford even a day or two without money if Congress cannot agree on a spending bill, Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said yesterday.

Last month, census officials finished assembling a list of all 120 million addresses in the nation and are nearly done double-checking them, he said. Leases have been signed for all but five of the 520 planned local census offices, which will open over the next few months.

The Census Bureau has sent 300,000 kits to teachers for use in a "Census in Schools" curriculum, Prewitt said.

In November, the Census Bureau will begin a $166 million advertising campaign--its first use of paid ads--to make people aware of the head count that will take place next spring. Half the ads will target minorities and immigrants, groups that have been undercounted in the past.

"We're exactly where we planned to be," Prewitt told a news conference, held at the local census office in the District, a few blocks from Union Station.

But Prewitt said the next census will suffer markedly if Congress does not soon approve the Census Bureau's $4.5 billion request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The House has included full funding in its appropriation bill that includes the Census Bureau. But the Senate bill omits $1.7 billion that the Census Bureau requested to improve the accuracy of the traditional head count.

The Census Bureau asked for the extra money after the Supreme Court ruled in January that it could not use statistical sampling to supplement any count used to allocate congressional seats. The Census Bureau has said it plans to use sampling for non-apportionment purposes, such as allocating federal funds.

In the House, the census appropriation has been designated an "emergency" to exempt it from spending caps, a move that has drawn criticism.

Prewitt said it is irrelevant to him whether Congress uses the emergency designation. He said the Census Bureau could survive on a monthly allowance in a temporary continuing resolution, if legislators cannot agree on a full-year budget.

But he emphasized that the Census Bureau needs the full amount it asked for, and is on such a tight schedule that even "a day or two" without funding could be fatal to a good count. The bureau needs $71 million by early October, for example, to buy ads in November, he said.

"This is not work that can be delayed or interrupted if you want a census in April 2000," he said.

"Congress has said time and time again that it wants an accurate, complete census, and it will have to pay what it's going to cost," he said. "We presume, when the conversations are over, that's that what will have happened."

Prewitt said the goal for the 2000 count is "as complete and as accurate as in 1990, but we're not saying we're going to do much better than that." The 1990 census, the first to be less accurate than the count before, missed an estimated 1.6 percent of the population.