Get counted: Florida, Polk Co. lag behind national census rate as deadline looms

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Census workers are going door-to-door to reach the 41.1% of people in Polk County who have not participated in the 2020 Census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

After initially being extended to the end of October due to the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau slashed the deadline by four weeks earlier this month.

Census counting will now end Sept. 30.

“If the numbers are low, the funding is low,” said Bill Braswell, the chair of the board of commissioners in Polk County.

The nationwide census response rate is 63.4%, as of Thursday, according to a U.S. Census Bureau regional manager.

Florida’s rate is 60.3%. Polk County’s rate is 58.9%.

“You’re not happy with that?” asked 8 On Your Side’s Staci DaSilva.

“No, No. Everybody knows how important it is,” said Braswell.

Census data determines funding, including for health care, education, and infrastructure, as well as representation in Washington.

Florida gained two congressional seats from the 2010 census.

More recently, it impacted COVID-19 relief money.

“When we got the CARES Act funding, it was based on the last census. If we don’t count the people that are here, we’re not going to get funding for the people that are here. It’s critical,” said Braswell.

With the truncated timeline, workers now less have time to get the job done, amid a pandemic that has some people wary of answering the door for strangers.

“How are you going to make sure you reach these people who are often under-counted with such a short amount of time left?” asked 8 On Your Side’s DaSilva.

“We’re going to follow up with the other 40% of the households, every one of them. We have increased our staffing. We’re increasing their hours,” said Marilyn Stephens, the assistant regional census manager in Florida.

Some members of Congress want an inspector general to look into possible political interference in the Census Bureau’s decision to shave four weeks off the deadline.

“We are apolitical. I don’t get into political arguments. I don’t get into arguments about the census with social scientists or even advocates. What we do is produce the facts,” said Stephens.

Census workers are equipped with masks, hand sanitizer and gloves, in some cases.

They are trained to stay six feet apart and all conversations happen outside.

“As we go through the decade, our question is simply this – will our numbers support our needs over the next ten years?” said Stephens.

You can participate online, by mail or by phone, by calling (844) 330-2020.

To learn more about how to participate in the census, visit https://2020census.gov/en.html.

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