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Florida Leaders Say Census Undercount Could Hurt Hundreds Of State Programs

people standing at podium at census press conference.
Carrie Pinkard
Local leaders encourage all Floridians to particiapte in the 2020 census.

Next year, you will be able to fill out your U.S. Census form the same way you order Uber Eats – on your smart phone.

On Wednesday, local and state leaders promoting census participation talked about how 2020 will be the first year United States residents are able to fill out census information entirely online. 

“If you don’t do it on the computer or phone, they’ll send you a card. Then someone will come knocking on your door,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller, a member of the Complete Count Committee. “It’s not to hurt you in any kind of way, it’s not to threaten you, it’s to make sure we have the dollars to take care of you.”

Reponses to the 2020 census determine how $700 billion in federal grand money is spent across the nation. The census numbers also determine how many congressional seats each state receives.

Florida is the nation’s third-largest state, and the fourth-fastest growing state, said Florida Tax Watch President Dominic M. Calabro.

Every day, an estimated 900 people move to Florida.

Calabro said these new residents make it crucial the 2020 census reflects Florida’s population - and just a 2% undercount could have a profound impact.

“With an estimated 22 million people in the state of Florida, counting 98% which is a pretty good number, we'd be missing half a million people. That's more than a congressional seat,” he said.

Miller acknowledged the political climate surrounding the census and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a citizenship question. He said the question has created mistrust, including among minorities who have historically been the most undercounted group.

“They don't want to fill it out because they feel like somebody is watching them,” Miller said.” Forget about that. It's important that you fill it out because that can help you in the long run. So the most undercounted would be minority people, people of color. We want to make sure they don't get scared away because we're here to help them out.”

The U.S. Census Bureau says it doesn't release individual’s data from the census to any government agency, or the public, for 72 years.

The census will officially begin on April 1st 2020.  

Carrie Pinkard is the Stephen Noble news intern for the summer 2019 semester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in English, before heading to USF St Pete to pursue a master’s in journalism.