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Billions at Stake for Florida Communities

Census 2020 logo

By Lori Sampson, MBA, EA, CAM

People are already talking about how important next year will be for our country.  Sure, it’s an election year. However, 2020 should loom large in the minds of nonprofit boards and other community leaders for another reason—Census 2020.

The decennial federal census is no small matter for Floridians. Approximately $45 billion in funds distributed every year to Florida come from 55 large federal spending programs based on census data.  Nationwide, about $675 billion in federal funding is directly affected by census data. Many public and private organizations, including some foundations, also rely on census data as part of their grant evaluation process.

It’s not just about funding. Academic institutions, medical facilities, local growth and development planners, and businesses rely on census data to inform their decision making. The census affects our representation too.  The decennial census drives reapportionment and redistricting of Congressional and state legislative seats.

If there is an undercount of people living in our community, it will have a direct impact on funding and representation for years to come. Unfortunately, Florida has no shortage of “hard-to-count populations” such as minorities, immigrants, young children, and those living in poverty.  In Southwest Florida, Hendry County was considered one of the most difficult to count tracts in the country in the 2010 Census.  Pockets in Lee and Collier Counties were also designated hard-to-count areas by the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau is scaling back door-to-door canvassing and reliance on paper-based forms for Census 2020. The Bureau will encourage more people to respond online and will rely more on telephone follow-up for unresponsive households. However, the decrease in households with landlines may have an impact on the Bureau’s ability to connect with some households. Traditionally, paper-based forms and the work of census takers have been most successful in obtaining responses from hard-to-count segments.  

That’s why many nonprofits and local governments will actively need to encourage people to participate in the census next year. Nonprofits are particularly influential at encouraging census participation because they often have ongoing, positive relationships with hard-to-count people.

Here are the most common reasons why people don’t participate and how to respond to those objections.

  1. Privacy concerns—Federal law prohibits the use of census data for anything other than aggregated statistics.  Individual responses aren’t shared with any other government agencies. The questions do delve into personal information to avoid duplicate responses and to measure demographics, however, that information is not used for other purposes. For an overview of what kinds of questions are asked and why see “Why Are They Asking That. What Everyone Needs to Know About 2020 Census Questions.”
  1. It’s a waste of time—The form is short so it’s not a commitment of much time. Here’s the list of questions as provided by the Census Bureau. The return on those few moments of time is significant. From road funding to health insurance, to grants for education, there are a plethora of ways an accurate count influences life for residents of a community. 
  1. I don’t like completing forms—Individuals with limited English fluency or limited education may be resistant to filling out the form. The Census 2020 form will be offered in 12 languages other than English to help address the language barrier. However, some people may still need assistance with the form or to understand the benefits of participation. This is where a trusted friend, agency, or church leader may assist or encourage a response.

If your nonprofit organization is interested in encouraging participation in Census 2020 in our community, there are materials available to help.  The Census Bureau has a page of resources organizations can use with fact sheets, statistics, infographics, and logos. If you are looking for something a little more Florida-centric, The Florida Nonprofit Alliance has put together a website to help Florida nonprofits learn more about Census 2020 and to provide them with resources to help encourage participation in their communities.

In the constant press to plan programs and events, to recruit volunteers, or raise funds it can be easy to overlook one small way a nonprofit can have a lasting influence on their community by encouraging census participation. 

Lori Sampson is a partner with Myers, Brettholtz & Company, PA and manages the accounting services department.  Her years of experience include working with nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and homeowner and condominium associations performing part-time CFO, controllership and consulting services.? She has been with the firm since 1993. 

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