This year has not been quite the start to the decade that we might have hoped for, bringing with it a widespread global pandemic and hurricanes battering our coasts, with a contentious presidential election yet to come. With each of these problems, though, Floridians have done what we can to adapt and rise up to the challenge
However even in the face of these problems, the 2020 Census has continued moving forward, with the deadline for collecting responses quickly approaching. Naturally though, all the difficulties our country has been dealing with throughout the year have presented just as many challenges for Census officials as they have for the rest of us, meaning many states are still behind on completing their counts. This has posed a uniquely sizable challenge in Florida, where self-response rates have been middling, meaning Census workers need to conduct more extensive follow-up.
If current deadlines remain in place and Florida’s response rates don’t start to climb drastically, that could spell major trouble for communities all across our state for the next decade.
To start, the Census plays a direct role in determining how more than $1 trillion in federal funding is distributed to the states. If a state’s population isn’t fully counted in the Census, then they won’t receive a lot of the funding they need for critical programs that finance infrastructure, broadband, agricultural programs, schools, health care, and so much more. Research indicates, for example, that Florida stands to lose almost $190 million in federal funding annually if our state is undercounted by even just one percent.
That money comes from taxes we pay to the federal government, but we will only see pennies on the dollar back if we are undercounted. Instead, that money will be going to states with higher response rates in this year’s Census, while critical infrastructure projects, storm relief aid, and other programs go underfunded here in Florida.
Of course, the Census also plays a major role in shaping what kind of voice we will have in Congress for the next decade as well. While we currently have 27 seats in the House of Representatives, that number could easily fall if our state is undercounted. Instead of having representatives to stand up for communities across Florida, Congress could be filled up with even more liberal politicians from states like California or New York.
Simply put, the Census needs more time to guarantee accurate results, and we need Congress to step in and pass legislation to make it happen. There are court fights going on right now to try and move the deadlines back, but their outcome is uncertain and their status changes by the day. Instead, we need Florida’s Senators, Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R), to join efforts being led by senators from other conservative states like Dan Sullivan (R-AK), David Perdue (R-GA) and Steve Daines (R-MT), to formally delay the Census deadline.
The Census was built into our Constitution with a specific and vital task. The best thing to do is adapt our Census processes to meet the challenges before us, just as we have done with so much else this year. If it is not delayed, Florida and dozens of other states that have had trouble ensuring full Census counts will be overlooked in the halls of government, without an opportunity for change until the 2030 Census. I have confidence that our elected leaders in Washington will recognize this, and work together to find a solution.
Arnold Lanier is Sheriff in Hardee County, Florida