Officials have been in overdrive for months to stress the importance of a full and accurate Census 2020 count. The outreach has been underway in earnest for more than a year.
Starting March 12, invitations to participate begin to arrive in the mail. Every home should receive an invitation by April 1 – also known as Census Day.
For the first time ever, participants have the option to respond online. Other options are by mail or phone.
The census invitations include a unique pin number to be entered online or used by mail or phone. The process takes about 10 minutes to complete, officials said.
Beginning in April, census canvassers will conduct quality check interviews at some homes. In May, canvassers will visit households that have not responded.
The census is mandated to take place every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution. It is a massive undertaking as each person living in the U.S. must be counted.
Indian Country, like other groups and communities, has much to gain and potentially lose if undercounted.
Native Americans and Alaska Native populations were undercounted by 4.9 percent in the 2010 Census because of technological restrictions, language barriers, a mistrust of revealing personal information to the federal government and geographic challenges.
An estimated 26 percent of the Native population lives in hard-to-count census tracts.
Broward County District 1 Commissioner Nan Rich is chair of the county’s Census 2020 “Complete Count Committee.”
She said Florida’s share of $900 billion in federal funds is at stake.
The funds are used for a wide-variety of programs that impact every resident, Rich said, whether education, Head Start, nursing homes, highways, nutrition programs or Medicaid.
“Everybody needs to participate. Every program that touches the lives of people in South Florida is connected to the Census count,” she said.
Statistics gathered by the Census are also used to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rich said Broward County will host a countywide event on Census Day.
According to the nonprofit and philanthropic initiative “Florida Counts Census 2020,” the Sunshine State had the third largest number of omissions in the 2010 census – 1.4 million people.
For each Florida resident who is not counted, the state loses $1,445 per year or $14,445 over 10 years.
Overall, the group said, Florida lost more than $20 billion in federal funding between 2010 and 2020 because of omissions.
Further, five of the 20 U.S. counties with the highest omissions in 2010 were in Florida: Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange and Hillsborough.
With so much at stake and to absorb, the census tends to attract its fair share of misinformation, something officials are trying to counter.
For example, the Trump administration attempted to add a citizenship question this year, prompting pushback and lawsuits. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the administration and the citizenship question will not be included.
Even so, many in immigrant communities were rattled, and officials are working to assure them that their citizenship status will not be asked.
The issue is also related to privacy – a concern among those filling out the questionnaire.
There are already individuals that have varying levels of baked-in mistrust of the government and worry that the information they give on the census will somehow be misused.
Census officials stress that the information is protected by federal law. It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census information that identifies an individual or business.
The Census Bureau does ask for some personal information, such as the full names and dates of birth for every household member.
On the lookout
The Census Bureau will not ask questions about how much money is in a bank account, passwords, Social Security numbers, a mother’s maiden name, work times or other questions that produce answers that might prove useful to identity thieves or cyber criminals.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody recently warned Floridians of scams on her radar.
Through a “consumer alert,” she said that scammers have previously tried to steal personal information under the guise of being officially associated with the census.
This has happened through the use of phishing emails – emails that might direct someone to a website that looks legitimate, but is actually a fake. The sites are sometimes infected with computer viruses.
Moody recommends only opening email attachments from known senders.
Another scam to be aware of, she said, is when individuals impersonate door-to-door census workers. The aim can be to break-in to homes and steal money, property or even commit violent acts.
Moody said official Census Bureau employees will have badges and ID numbers that can be confirmed by calling (800) 923-8282.
The IDs include a photograph and a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date.
If it is determined that the visitor does not work for the Census Bureau, Moody said to contact local law enforcement.
To report suspected census scams, call Moody’s office at (800) 354-7271 (in English) or (800) 833-5625 (in Spanish).
More information is at 2020census.gov.