Florida's 2020 Census participation has billions in federal funding at stake, watchdog warns

Posted at 5:12 AM, Jul 11, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- By not answering a few questions, Floridians could be costing the state millions of dollars and political power, watchdogs warned Wednesday morning.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan group that analyzes state finance data, worried too few will participate in the upcoming 2020 Census to get an accurate population count of the state.

The group's CEO Dominic Calabro said, according to a federal study, an undercount in 2000 might have cost Florida a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and a bunch of money over 10 years.

“$2.5 billion dollars," Calabro said. "Money is being sent to states where Americans no longer live. It’s wrong. It’s unfair. This is the time to make that right.”

Not completing a Census can have a big impact. Every ten years, it counts the nation’s population. The Census determines how many US Representatives a state has. Plus— how much funding it might receive from a pool of federal grants, totaling more than $675 billion annually.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know it was a thing coming up,” said Stephanie Barfield, a Tallahassee mother.

It's people like Barfield officials are trying to reach. She has yet to participate in a Census and says the decennial survey isn't that big of a concern for her.

“Not really," Barfield said. "I’m raising kids. So— just trying to raise kids that don’t suck.”

Getting people to take part won’t likely be simple. Besides general apathy, some are leery of giving out personal info, though it’s a crime for Census officials to share it. Also, this year, Florida lacks a statewide committee supporting the effort. The governor saying recently he believed the federal government should be the one stepping up.

TaxWatch is instead hoping cities and counties will work together to create campaigns to drive up response rates. It pointed to the relationship between Leon County and Tallahassee as an example. The two have each set aside $10,000 for a public outreach program known as the Complete Count Committee. It'll pay for a multimedia campaign using social and traditional media.

“We are excited to do our part and set the example for how we can achieve results by working together as a community,” said Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey in a statement. “It’s imperative that everyone understand the importance of being counted during the census."

The federal government said homes will receive Census invitations by April 1 of next year. People will then be able to respond online, by phone or by mail.