The nation and the world are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s another national story that has nearly been sidelined due to the crisis — it’s time for the 2020 Census.
Local municipal leaders want to remind residents of the fast-approaching deadline for the 2020 Census. In mid-March, households nationwide began receiving census instructions in the mail, including the need to self-report their information by Census Day on April 1.
Residents can complete the 2020 Census online, by mail or over the phone. This is the first time that the census is being completed with a heavy push on a new, secure internet-driven reporting system. People who do not fill out the report online using the code they received in the mail will receive a paper form. If they still don’t respond, census workers will come to their home. That part of the process, however, could be delayed due to the pandemic.
With many households working and schooling from home, and travel not encouraged, it is the perfect moment to take about 10 minutes to complete the census online and be counted for their community, which in turn directs billions of dollars in federal funds to schools, roads and other public services.
Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto said that he has already completed the census and that the process online is straightforward.
“We’ve already sent out information explaining to residents the amount of money [Royal Palm Beach] lost in the last census. We wanted to put a dollar amount on the value of their responses and make it real for people,” he said.
Local government officials have been talking about the census and its importance since last year. As of Wednesday, March 25, only 29.7 percent of Royal Palm Beach residents had completed the self-reporting process online. While that’s higher than the Florida response rate of 25.8 percent and the Palm Beach County response rate of 27.2 percent, it’s not nearly where the village wants it to be.
If Royal Palm Beach only reaches the mark 10 years ago of 78 percent counted, it could result in a loss of around four million dollars in federal funding.
Royal Palm Beach Village Manager Ray Liggins completed the census on his iPad in just a few minutes and emphasized that the importance is more than financial — it’s also about representation in government.
“Filling out the census is how we get maximum representation. We are a representative democracy, and that requires others to do that for us. The more people we have representing us, the better. It’s so important,” Liggins said. “Our number of representatives is how we pick our president.”
When a community does not fill out the census on their own, the government sends trained workers door to door so they can estimate the remaining numbers. Currently, due to the pandemic, the government is in the process of altering training and collection strategies.
“That estimating on the people who don’t respond — we shouldn’t rely on it,” Liggins said. “As a resident of Royal Palm Beach, I would want the data as accurate as possible. More of our revenue comes from state revenue sharing than we collect in property taxes.”
The former is based directly on census results.
Over in Wellington, the response rate is a bit higher at 30.3 percent. Village officials there are also being proactive with their census completions.
“I took advantage of my time social distancing and being home to fill out the census,” Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said. “It’s really easy — it doesn’t take more than maybe seven minutes to fill out the form. The less people in your house, the faster it is. All the information is confidential and not being used for any kind of nefarious purposes. It is strictly a head count.”
Napoleone explained how the growth of Wellington’s population directly translates to money for its citizens.
“The census is what helps determine how much federal funding flows into states and communities every year. So, accurate numbers are important to make sure we are allocated the correct amount of funds based on our population,” he said. “If the numbers are old and outdated, and lower, there is less federal money flowing into Florida, and in turn, Wellington.”
Some people worry about the census being an invasion of privacy. Therefore, the questions are individually listed on the census web site with an explanation of why the question is asked.
All households should be watching for mail from the U.S. Census Bureau that contains the Census ID and PIN, which are unique to each address. A Census ID consists of a 12-digit code made up of numbers and letters.
As of March 25, the national census self-reporting numbers sit at 26.2 percent. While Wellington and Royal Palm Beach are slightly above average, another local community, Loxahatchee Groves, is currently below average with a self-reporting number of 20.3 percent.
For more information on the census, www.2020census.gov.