The Loxahatchee Groves Complete Count Committee held its organizational meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17 with the goal of improving its initial count of town residents to more than the 24 percent response rate it had in 2010.
Of about 150 people who were invited by town staff, fewer than 30 showed up for the meeting.
The meeting brought out the unique nature of the Loxahatchee Groves populace, that although the town has only 1,300 official addresses, a large percentage of its residents stand to go uncounted unless an effort is made to count residents without addresses.
Mayor Robert Shorr opened the meeting, explaining that subcommittees include agricultural, business, healthcare, schools, nonprofits, community organizations and faith-based organizations.
“After the PowerPoint [presentation] is over, we’re going to pass a form around for committees, if anybody wants to sign up to head a committee,” Shorr said. “The goal is to go out to these categories and try to put together a team to maximize our ability to count heads and beds by April 1. Everybody here knows how important the census is toward future funding for the next 10 years.”
Shorr said he learned at a recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting that New Orleans is still suffering due to a gross census undercount in 2010, after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005, and a large percentage of the population had left the city and were not present for the 2010 count.
Sanford Goodman, a local agent with the Atlanta Regional Census Center, said the people attending had been invited because town staff believed they have influence to get people to participate who might not otherwise.
“A complete count committee is made up of diverse members who come from all different areas and different viewpoints, different backgrounds so they can sit in a room and plan how to get over the obstacles to get everyone counted in the census,” Goodman said. “The goal is to educate people who don’t know and convince them as to why they should respond.”
Goodman explained that Florida is part of Atlanta region of the U.S. Census, which encompasses North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“Florida represents the most populated of all those states,” he said. “The Town of Loxahatchee Groves, along with community groups, can get involved to improve the accuracy of the results.”
The undercount in Palm Beach County was estimated at roughly 300,000 in 2010.
“There’s no reset. There’s no, ‘We opened up new communities, new buildings, an extra 15,000 people came to this town,’” he said.
The U.S. Constitution has required a census count every 10 years since 1790. The census is officially used for congressional apportionment, as well as redistricting within the states. However, it is also tied to at least $675 billion of funding each year for the next 10 years.
“These funds are allocated by Congress and come in a large variety of funding streams — for example, hospitals, Medicare, Medicaid, fire departments, police departments, highway planning and construction, community development block grants, schools and educational programs, school lunch, Head Start, pre-K, senior citizen centers and Section 8 housing,” he said, explaining that there are more than 500 funding streams, including FEMA funding after natural disasters.
Goodman noted that Florida currently has 27 representatives in Congress.
“We picked up two seats in 2010, and we’re likely to pick up more in 2020,” he said.
Everything that individuals report in the census is confidential, protected by sworn oath by everyone involved with the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Nobody is permitted to divulge any personally identifiable information under penalty of law, and the penalty is $250,000 per incident and up to five years imprisonment,” Goodman said.
All the information is encrypted so that it is not available to any unauthorized individuals. That means that immigration agencies and law enforcement agencies do not have access to the information.
“The Census Bureau never asks for money or donations, never sends requests on behalf of a political party, never requests PIN numbers, passwords or information for credit cards or banks,” Goodman stressed. “Anybody who asks for that kind of information is not from the census.”
Loxahatchee Groves’ special challenge is accounting for a large population that lives on a property with one address, but live in other structures, such as migrant quarters, RVs or trailers.
“There isn’t going to be a postcard sent to people who don’t live in a house,” Goodman said, explaining that it is the responsibility of the property owner to report all individuals living on that property.
Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said the town received a 24 percent response rate during the 2010 census. “We have a very diverse population,” Ramaglia said. “A lot of people have not been counted before. The money isn’t only what comes to us, but it’s kind of like concentric circles at each level of government and a variety of different things. A lot of it is for children and families, a lot of it is for healthcare and a lot of it is for infrastructure. A lot of the things that we’re lacking would change if we were able to get a more complete number.”
Goodman said postcards will be sent to all addressees on March 12, 2020 asking for participation online or by phone, and people who have not responded by March 16 will receive a reminder from the Census Bureau.
“The best way that we can hope for is that people will respond online,” he said, explaining that 80 percent of the people In Loxahatchee Groves have access to computers with internet connections.
Those who have not responded to the Census Bureau by computer or phone by April 8, 2020 will receive a paper form to fill out.
“We realize that some people don’t respond to our attempts to get them to go online, so we’re going to send a paper form with a prepaid response envelope,” Goodman said. “If you don’t respond to that, 10 days later you’re going to get a knock on the door.”
He said getting counted means getting access to services that people want, use and need, explaining that he wants to motivate people to be eager to respond to the census, including those who do not speak English, those who are in town seasonally or live on someone else’s property with no mailing address.
“These same people who live there are still using the medical facilities, the roads and their children are going to school,” Goodman said.
The Loxahatchee Groves Complete Count Committee nominated Marge Herzog as chair and Simon Fernandez as co-chair. The committee will meet again in October, but a specific date has not been set. For more information, e-mail Ramaglia at email@example.com.