County Making Efforts To Get A More Complete Census Count

County staff and Census 2020 representatives told the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 27 that they are taking action to ensure a complete count of all residents next year, with a specific focus on people who might remain under the radar for a variety of reasons.

The census is officially used to determine the number of congressional representatives, but many other services are also tied to the population count. That includes much of the money that the county receives from the federal government.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker explained the steps that have already been taken to get an accurate count.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of handling the county’s census since 2000,” Baker said, explaining that she was appointed by former County Administrator Bob Weisman to lead both the 2000 and 2010 counts in Palm Beach County. “That included redistricting in the following years.”

She said that county staff will be working with Lisa De La Rionda, Patricia Behn and assistant county administrators Patrick Rutter and Todd Bonlarron on the census count.

“They have already begun that process,” Baker said. “We have convened our Complete Count Committee under direction of this board, so we are far ahead of some of our counterparts. They are reaching out to us so we can share what we have done so far. It is going to be critical that we involve the community, as well as our municipal partners, in insuring that every person in this county is accounted for in our Census 2020 data.”

Rutter explained that the census is a seven-step process. “We’ve worked through a number of them to date,” he said.

Deputy Planning Director Patricia Behn said her staff is using every means available, including GIS tracking, to locate addresses to include in the census.

“We completed that on June 29, 2018,” Behn said. “We had a lot of partners from the different cities. This will ensure an accurate count in the county and help our county plan for future needs. It’s important to get these addresses so the census is able to go out and canvas these addresses to make sure that every person is counted.”

Aside from redistricting at national, state and local levels, the census is used to help distribute federal government funds annually, including more than $675 billion for infrastructure services.

Local participation last year included 22 municipalities that registered directly with the census.

“We had six cities that did partner with the county,” Behn said. “That meant they worked with us in identifying all the addresses within their cities. Eleven cities did not register. These are some of the smaller cities.”

In 2010, the county was able to salvage about 16,000 households that were not captured initially, that the U.S. Census Bureau finally accepted as part of the count.

The next step was to identify high-growth areas since the last census. That process began in January of this year. The county worked with municipalities, offering services including GIS tracking to identify areas that may not have been included in the 2010 Census. The county is also identifying new construction areas, looking at municipalities’ building permits and approved projects countywide through April 1, 2020.

“We make sure that every single one of those projects has an address, and we don’t miss any of the residential projects,” Behn said.

De La Rionda said the Complete Count Committee includes government, education and faith-based entities.

“We have a strong partnership through our League of Women Voters, our homeowners’ associations, the United Way and the Urban League,” she said. “Our business partners are extremely valuable.”

Business partners include healthcare, banking and retail stores, the chambers of commerce, the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, CareerSource and the county’s library system.

“The fact that we have our libraries available, engaged, both through their activities and their availability, ensure that our residents will be counted,” De La Rionda said.

Bonlarron said that redistricting is an important part of the census. Dec. 31, 2020 is when the U.S. Census Bureau reports the official population count and reapportionment of congressional seats. “From there, on March 31, 2021, the data will be released for state and local redistricting,” he said.

Bonlarron noted that the census data is also used to determine where new schools, hospitals and businesses will be built, and how federal funding will be distributed. In fiscal year 2016, more than $44 billion was distributed in Florida based on the 2010 census.

“That is an incredibly important part of why we need to make sure that everyone is counted in Palm Beach County,” he said.

De La Rionda said that emphasis is placed on counting minority communities, which are particularly vulnerable to an undercount.

Virginia Savietto, administrative assistant to County Commissioner Greg Weiss, said the Complete Count Committee brought together 85 leaders to assist the multicultural communities in gaining trust.

“It was amazing to see all the organizations from the Hispanic and Haitian and Caribbean and the multinationals come together to see how they could do something with us,” Savietto said.

Pedro Guilarte, who works with the U.S Census Bureau in Atlanta, said the average response rate for paper surveys among multicultural communities is about 50 percent initially. However, those numbers are raised significantly due to the outreach work that the county is undertaking.

“The census is not about counting half the people,” Guilarte said. “It’s about counting all the people.”

Savietto noted that California had funded $100 million toward its census count while Florida has not funded anything.

Weiss noted that Alabama has sued the U.S. Census Bureau over counting undocumented immigrants in apportioning congressional seats, although its success could mean losing congressional representation and a portion of federal funding.

“That would be their loss,” Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Dave Kerner said.