With the 2020 U.S. Census a year out and counting, Florida lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing to make sure every citizen is counted, even as the massive undertaking faces challenges.
“A fair and accurate Census is one of the most significant civil rights and economic justice issues facing our country today,” said Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson, from Jacksonville, who also serves as the Senate Minority Leader.
The once-every-decade U.S. Census count data is crucial because it leads to disbursing billions of federal dollars across Florida and other states, bolstering public education, fire departments, health centers, transportation and other programs that help communities most in need.
In fiscal year 2016, Florida received more than $44 billion stemming from 2010 Census data, from 55 large federal spending programs, according to a report from the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.
In addition, the Census provides information required to redistribute seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. For example, Florida gained two Congressional seats after the 2010 U.S. Census, and according to an analysis done by the Washington Post, Florida is projected to pick up two more seats after the 2020 Census.
“We as a state must do everything within our power to make sure that each and every citizen is counted,” said state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Democrat representing part of Palm Beach County.
It’s always a challenge to get a full and accurate Census report, but there are unique challenges in 2020 that will truly test the system, the group of advocates said on Monday, April 1. That’s exactly one year away from what is considered the official launch of the 2020 Census, though the Census Bureau has said activity will begin in Alaska in January 2020.
The 2020 U.S. Census will be a first in that people will be able to fill it out online — on computers, laptops and mobile phones.
A big concern is a controversial question regarding citizenship that may be included, which could lead to undocumented immigrants opting not to fill out the Census. That would likely leave large gaps of people who won’t be counted.
The question has spawned a number of lawsuits filed by states, cities and other groups. Two federal judges have ruled to block the Trump administration’s plans for the question – and the issue will now go before the U.S. Supreme Court. A hearing is expected to take place later this month, according to the New York Times.
If the question remains, “It will definitely cause underrepresentation, which will then in turn lead to less dollars to the state of Florida,” said State Rep. Susan Valdes, a Democrat who represents part of Hillsborough County.
Valdes and Sen. Powell are sponsoring legislation that would have state lawmakers create a “complete count committee.” Powell’s legislation says a complete count committee would be comprised of state and locally elected officials, as well as members of the faith-based, business and minority communities.
According to the official U.S. Census website, complete count committees are “a broad spectrum of government and community leaders from education, business, healthcare and other community organizations” designed to creating awareness about the Census.
“Complete count committees at every level increases awareness about the Census, and motivate residents to respond to the Census questionnaire,” said State Rep. Valdes.
Powell said it was imperative the state embrace a community based, multilingual outreach strategy so that no community will be left behind.
Sabeen Perwaiz is executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance in Jacksonville. She expressed concern that Florida was behind the curve in preparing for the 2020 Census, noting that on the county level, only 25 percent of counties have created complete count committees.
“I have to tell you, people in our community have always been afraid of filling out the Census,” added Thomas Kennedy, with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, referencing the possibility that the citizenship question will remain on the Census form.
“Now we are facing attacks like ever before, and the attempt to add the citizenship question to the Census is not a bug but a feature to disenfranchise our communities, and instill fear.”