An influential statewide public policy advocacy group is calling on Florida counties and cities to make sure every one of the estimated 21.31 million residents is counted in the upcoming 2020 decennial census.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake on a yearly basis, and about $5 billion dollars in a 10-year period, said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.
More than 80,000 residents statewide were not counted in the 2010 census, Calabro said, and more than 200,000 in 2000. After the 1990 count, the Palm Beach Post reported the total missed was 260,000.
“For fast growing states like Florida, it’s really important to count all of our residents,” he said. “Especially since Florida has a transient population.”
About 20 months away from the April 1, 2020 Census Day, Palm Beach County — which has a population of about 1.47 million — and its municipalities are already gearing up to inform each resident of his or her $1,440 worth in federal dollars.
“We’ve already hit the road this year,” said Lisa De La Rionda, director of public affairs for Palm Beach County. “As it gets closer to the Census, there’s a tremendous awareness that comes from all of our partners.”
The results of the decennial count are used to determine the amount of dollars a state receives in federal funding each year. Data is also used to reapportion seats in the U.S.House of Representatives and realign congressional districts. About $675 billion in federal money is up for grabs, and under-counting could mean less programs, services or infrastructure for the state and county.
Decennial census records are confidential for 72 years to protect respondents’ privacy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.
Communities have battled under-counting for years, leading to the creation of awareness committees and other efforts to grab the public’s attention and inform them of the importance of being counted.
Refrigerator magnets. Miami Dolphins mascots. Koozies. Balloons. Gift cards to Publix.
The under-count in 2010 for the county is estimated to have been about 7,300, according to the bureau.
Local officials are concerned residents might be afraid to fill out the census because of the current immigration dialogue.
President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year said it will add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. A lawsuit filed by state and local governments and advocacy groups is expected to go to trial in the fall, according to The New York Times. Plaintiffs claim the question is an attempt by the White House to discriminate against immigrants. They also claim it would cause the census to be inaccurate and under counted.
Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay said she doesn’t want to miss out on federal money for programs such as helping the homeless because residents are afraid to participate.
“There will be a full-faith effort on behalf of the county on the importance of participating,” McKinlay said.
Palm Beach County staff have already finished comparing in-house databases of addresses with census information to come up with an updated, accurate list of all the addresses in the county, both in unincorporated and incorporated areas. The county sent that list — 709,168 residential addresses — to the bureau, said Patricia Behn, the county’s deputy planning director.
The census will go over the list and contact the county if they have any discrepancies. For example, in 2010, the bureau kicked back 160,000 addresses because some included commercial locations. The county recovered about 16,000, Behn said.
Behn said both the bureau and the county have come a long way since then in terms of technological advances making the process much smoother this year.
Also, any new addresses that are created because of construction between now and the 2020 census can be added.
Starting in January, staff will look at the census tracts to see if sections need to be amended because of changes in growth.
Then the Complete Count Committee in April pushes the publicity component. They’ll work to educate historically hard-to-reach or hard-to-count communities, such as low income, renters, residents who speak limited English, live in rural areas or places with security, don’t have a high school diploma and are young and mobile, according to Behn.
The public can respond to the census online with or without a Census-provided ID, in addition to by mail, phone or in person, according to the county.
Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant said the city will have a robust social media campaign to educate its residents. He said he’s concerned about getting those residents who are homeless counted because they use the city’s resources, too.
The Palm Beach County League of Cities is also already in preparation mode and has been working with the county.
“Each person that you miss or you don’t count is revenue that the state, the school district, the county doesn’t receive and they have to supply the services,” said Richard Radcliffe, the league’s executive director. “It’s kind of the no brainer of no brainers.”