State groups and local governments pledge to get people involved in census, but state of FL? Not so much

Photo by Alex Wong,Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis may be using a “hands off” approach to getting Floridians counted in the 2020 U.S. Census, but local governments and the nonprofit Florida group TaxWatch said Wednesday it’s critical to invest in the census to make sure communities get their fair share of federal dollars.

An undercount of the number of people living in Florida during the 2000 census “cost Florida in (federal) grants at least $225 million per year….that’s money that Florida should have received,” Dominic Calabro with Florida TaxWatch said during a press conference at the group’s Tallahassee headquarters.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey and Leon County Commissioner Rick Minor told reporters  how their local governments intend to work closely together to ensure that the area has a complete a census count in 2020.

Leon and Tallahassee have each allocated $10,000 for a “Complete Count Committee,” joining some of the state’s largest local governments in forming citizen advisory groups which aim to encourage people to participate.

But the local governments won’t be getting any help from the state. Gov. DeSantis said he does not intend to allocate any state money towards the effort.

Democrats in the Florida Senate have called on DeSantis to create a statewide Complete Count Committee, but he told reporters last month that he has no interest in doing so. The last Republican governor in office when the census took place – Charlie Crist – did create such a committee in 2009.

Citing a key report about the 2000 census that said that Florida had the fourth largest census undercount in the nation, Calabro with Florida TaxWatch said it is critical for the Sunshine State to get it right next year.

The federal government decides how much funding or grants to give states, counties and cities by looking at detailed census data. That can go to updating schools, building new hospitals, repairing broken roads and maintaining public utilities.  There are 132 programs in all that affect every aspect of Floridians’ lives.

“You look at Community Development Block Grants,” Mayor Dailey said, referring to the federal program that provides grants to communities in for economic and neighborhood development. “For many communities across the U.S. and the state of Florida, whether you receive direct funding, or whether you have to apply from funding through the state, it’s (based) on population. So that’s one important example of making sure you have an accurate count, especially if you have a community that might be on the edge.”

TaxWatch also says that Florida historically has been a “donor state,” meaning the state gives out much more in revenue to Washington – another reason to ensure that the state gets as accurate a count as possible when the census convenes next spring.

Another major concern that remains unresolved is whether the census will include a question regarding U.S. citizenship, which hasn’t been on the decennial survey since 1950.  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding the question late last month, but Chief Justice John Roberts left open the possibility that if the administration could provide an adequate answer, the high court might allow it.

As the Phoenix reported last month, more than 20 states have allocated funds for the census, with California leading the way by committing more than $100 million.

Kenneth Prewett, the U.S. Census Bureau’s director from 1998 to 2001, told the Phoenix that when it comes to allocating federal funds by using official census counts, ‘This is a fixed pot that gets allocated…so if Florida does not participate in a major effort to have a high turnout census, then somebody will benefit – Texas or New York or California, or who knows?”

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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