Patrick Riley, Naples Daily NewsPublished 7:00 a.m. ET Jan. 21, 2020
With the 2020 census fast approaching, Collier County organizations are gearing up to boost the county’s participation and make sure all residents are counted.
Some 60 organizations — including the Collier County NAACP, the Redlands Christian Migrant Association and the Collier County School District — are expected to meet for a first Complete Count Committee meeting on Wednesday at the University of Florida/IFAS Collier County Extension Office in Golden Gate Estates. The meeting is open to the public.
The goal? Coming up with strategies to have as many Collier residents as possible participate in the census, which — among other things — dictates the funding communities receive for education, social programs, transportation, disaster relief, police and fire, infrastructure and health care.
“We’re going to do some specific outreach in areas that are hard to count,” said Michelle Malsbury, U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist for Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties. Historically, those areas in Collier have included Immokalee and Golden Gate.
Residents who may not be citizens might be skeptical that census information will be shared with other agencies, which is not the case, Malsbury said. The information is kept confidential and the agency only releases the numbers.
“The Census Bureau only exists to disseminate statistics,” Malsbury said. “That’s all we do.”
Others who don’t fill out the questionnaires may simply be lazy or don’t realize the significance of the census count, she said.
Census results are used to distribute billions in federal funds annually. Data from the count is also used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, which in turn impacts a state’s electoral college votes and provides the basis for redistricting.
According to Collier County staff, based on 30,000 unauthorized immigrants estimated in the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area in 2016, had the census been conducted that year and those residents had chosen not to participate in the count, the potential loss to Collier in federal assistance would have been $43.35 million.
“It’s tremendously important that people participate in the census,” Malsbury said.
Starting on March 12 households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with information on how to respond to the census online, by phone or mail. By April 1, Census Day, every home will receive an invitation to participate.
The Census Bureau, Malsbury said, plans to hire some 3,000 part-time workers in Collier who will start fanning out sometime after March 12 to knock on doors and help with the count.
The helpers will be “blanketing” the whole county and if one area has a high response rate, they may be sent elsewhere with a lower rate, Malsbury said.
Aside from March, postcards with information on how to participate in the census will be also sent to homes in April, May and June. In May, the questionnaire will also be attached, Malsbury said.
In 2010, Collier had a 71% response rate. By comparison, Monroe County boasted a 95% response rate.
County commissioners last month appointed a staffer as a complete count coordinator to help increase awareness and participation. The county is also conducting its own outreach efforts, which includes a website with a census timeline and FAQ.
The Collier County School District in October held a work group meeting with community organizations, including the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Club of Collier County, Champions for Learning, the Immokalee Foundation, the Benison Center, CareerSource Southwest Florida and the county.
The school district is working with the county to promote participation in the census, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Kupiec.
“We have already started to share information about the Census with administrators and will work with the county to support communication regarding the Census to teachers, students, and families,” she wrote in an email. “This information will help inform education stakeholders about the importance of an accurate count.”
Complete Count Committee meeting
When: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Where: University of Florida/IFAS Collier County Extension Office, 14700 Immokalee Road, Naples, FL 34120.