Just 59% of Miami-Dade residents have completed the Census. That could cost millions

Only about 59% of Miami-Dade County residents have completed U.S. Census forms as of Aug.

Only about 59% of Miami-Dade County residents have completed U.S. Census forms as of Aug. 21 with just over a month before the deadline, putting the county at risk of losing out on federal funding in areas such as education, transportation and healthcare, the chairman of a county task force promoting Census participation said during a news conference Wednesday.

“It’s unacceptable, quite frankly, because we are not only jeopardizing the next 10 years of our community, we’re leaving millions of dollars on the table,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr. said at the event held in front of Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years to count residents across the country as a way to determine federal funding and political representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2010, according to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, the city of Miami lost out on receiving millions of dollars in federal funding because the Census failed to count about 32,000 residents who didn’t fill out the form.

“In our city, probably the best example of the consequences of not filling out the Census, [is] we lost out on $81 million of direct funding from the federal government because our population was 468,000,” Suarez said.

Bovo, Suarez and other local mayors also cautioned that a low response rate could jeopardize Florida’s representation in Washington. Florida is likely to gain one or two additional seats in the House of Representatives based on population figures prior to the 2022 election. But with a low Census response rate, local leaders worry that that might come into question.

The deadline for all counting efforts is now Sept. 30, a month earlier than had been previously announced, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Aug. 3. The deadline had initially been pushed from the end of July to Oct. 31 to allow for more flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic. But earlier this month, the Census bureau moved the deadline to the end of September to “accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce,” the bureau wrote in a statement.

Moné Holder, the senior program director at New Florida Majority, a progressive organizing group working to increase political power for marginalized communities, said that the new deadline might have a direct impact on harder to count communities, which generally have been black and brown communities, she said.

“To hear that it will be cut short without much notice for groups like ours who are doing work in the community, who are messaging to people around the Census deadline and timeline, for people who may have other priorities…it just seemed like another kick to the community while we’re down,” Holder said. “We’re already suffering and this would cause us to suffer even more for the next decade.”

While Bovo said he would prefer to have more time to encourage residents to fill out the Census, he said the new deadline is not reason for a response rate that trails the national rate of about 75%.

“Look, I’d rather us have more time, obviously, and October 31 gave us more time, but the Census is usually something that people procrastinate on,” Bovo said. “Sept. 30 is the deadline. That’s what we got to work on because everybody else is working on that same timeline, so the emphasis is get it done. There’s no excuse not to get it done.”

The county task force promoting 2020 Census participation and other local organizations, including the New Florida Majority, are making last ditch efforts to reach as many Miami-Dade residents as possible before the September deadline.

The county task force had originally planned to stake out public libraries to pass out information about the Census, but it has since shifted its outreach efforts due to coronavirus. Now, the task force is doing that work at food distribution sites. It will also launch a marketing campaign Sept. 1 to encourage residents to fill out the form and they are also calling residents to remind them that they can fill out the Census online or via phone or mail.

Bovo also said that the U.S. Census Bureau is sending individuals out into the community to knock on the doors of residents that have not yet returned their forms.

The New Florida Majority is relying on digital campaigning and reaching out to faith leaders to answer people’s questions about the Census, according to Holder.

“We’ve sent some mailers and have been talking to different leaders in the faith-based community just to make sure that the word is getting out that the Census still needs to be completed despite COVID, despite it being election season,” Holder said. “And then now, it’s getting the word out that you still have to do it, but you have to do it even faster.”

For Bovo, the only solution to the low rate of participation is a new push to urge Miami-Dade residents to fill out the Census before Sept. 30.

“If you care about education, if you care about transportation, if you care about housing, if you care about healthcare…then you need to fill out the Census,” he said. “It is critically important that we get it done.”

Individuals can fill out a Census form online at 2020census.gov.

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