Traffic, school lunch and House seats informed by census. Will the count be accurate?

When it comes to the 10-year population count of the U.S. census, there’s a lot on the line.

The information provided will be used by the federal government for critical improvements in Florida and Manatee County, specifically. On Tuesday, the Manatee Community Foundation hosted a meeting to discuss the impact of the census — and what it could mean for the area if certain populations aren’t accounted for.

Everything from highway and road improvements to political representation are benefits of the data collected, said Sabeen Perwaiz, executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance. In fact, Florida is slated to gain two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after 2020 data is compiled.

“We don’t want to get to the end of the process and wonder why we didn’t do something,” said Susie Bowie, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation. “Nonprofits are asked to make up the difference in that funding but there’s just not enough money to do that.”

Other funding influenced by the census include the federal Pell Grant, Medicaid and school lunches across the nation, but the money the Bradenton area receives might not be fair if some hard-to-count communities aren’t factored in.

Bernadine King, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau, urged guests to use their “trusted voices” in the community to help spread the word about the upcoming survey so that the government can properly allocate the area’s fair share of funding from a $800 billion pot.

“There’s a reason why you were invited to something like this,” King told the audience. “It’s because you are affiliated with organizations that have a far reach. We don’t know who you are serving, why you are serving and what those people need. You know that better than anybody. We want to partner with you to make sure we get a full and accurate count.”

There’s a precedent for concern, Perwaiz explained. In 2010, the census missed more than 2 million children nationwide, most of them children of color. Those dollars matter, she said, because about a third of Florida’s general revenues ($25.5 billion) are provided by the federal government. 2010’s undercount resulted in the state missing out on an extra $178 million.

Presenters explained that impoverished, minority and high-crime communities are among those that are difficult to reach. To alleviate those issues, King urged guests to champion their own complete count committees that can work with those to ensure a fair count. She also assuaged concerns of any repercussions from filling out the census survey.

“They may be receiving (Supplemental Security Income), they may be receiving Medicaid or some type of public assistance or some type of assistance from somewhere and they tie it into ‘I can’t fill out the census because my benefits will be cut off,’ but all of that is a myth,” King explained. “It has nothing to do with anything other than where you are living April 1.”

The United States Census Bureau itself has already begun outreach efforts meant to educate and inform communities on the upcoming count, but April 1, 2019 will serve as the kickoff date of a major media campaign for census awareness.

“We have a year to get the message out and keep reminding people to be counted,” said Geula Ferguson, director of programs for the Florida Philanthropic Network.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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