Count the Ways the Census Helps Florida

Posted on 04/30/20 by Tom Scherberger

If you haven’t filled out the 2020 census form yet, expect a knock at your door later this year.

Billions of dollars and clout in Washington are on the line for Florida, and older residents have a stake in making sure everyone is counted.

The census faces stiff challenges in Florida. The state’s transitory population makes it harder for census workers to count everyone—not just snowbird retirees but nursing home residents, migrant workers, undocumented immigrants and thousands of homeless people.

A lack of affordable housing has led to living arrangements that are intentionally kept off the books, so it is tough for census workers to know who’s at home.

The count in 2010 missed thousands of Floridians, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because of the large Hispanic and black populations (groups historically undercounted), the Urban Institute is predicting that at least 97,000 residents won’t be counted this year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida director, to his Complete Count Committee, reflecting the importance of counting all older people.

Based on the 2010 census, Florida received about $44 billion in funding in 2016 for 55 federal programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, affordable housing initiatives and transportation, according to a George Washington University analysis.

“A lot of the things the federal government does in Florida are tied to census data,” Johnson said. Without an accurate count, funding could be insufficient for programs that help the 8 million residents 50 and older.

More House members

The census also determines the number of U.S. House members for each state, and Florida’s growth could mean three or four more representatives.

For the first time, the Census Bureau is using an online survey, which, while more efficient, could pose a hurdle for older folks who are uncomfortable online or don’t have computer access, said Ivonne Fernandez, AARP Florida associate state director.

By now everyone should have received an invitation by mail to respond to the online survey, followed by a few reminders if the survey wasn’t completed.

Workers had planned to go door-to-door starting this month, seeking those who did not respond, but that has been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.

In April, the Census Bureau announced that it is sending a COVID-19 survey by text and email to 13.8 million households, gathering data on employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, and education disruptions. This survey is optional.

The national count is a snapshot of where everyone was living on April 1. If you spend time in two places, choose where you were on that date.

AARP is working to achieve a complete tally, focusing on public education through social media, printed material, community events, and alliances with community partners and religious groups, Fernandez said.

It also partnered with volunteer chaplains from Share Your Heart, a South Florida nonprofit, to reach hard-to-count communities, speaking with residents in English, Spanish and Creole.

The census also brings the risk of scams, from fraudulent websites to impostors posing as census takers. Official census workers will not ask for your Social Security number or financial information, or threaten jail time if you don’t comply.

Go to 2020census.gov for updates.

If you have questions about whether census material is legitimate, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. And visit aarp.org/fraud for more information.

Tom Scherberger is a writer living in Tampa.

For More on the Census:

5 Ways to Avoid Census Scams

This story is provided by AARP Florida. Visit the AARP Florida page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.

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