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DeSantis steps up on counting every Floridian for the census | Editorial

The governor’s new statewide committee should coordinate with local efforts to strive for an accurate count.
A worker gets ready to pass out instructions in how fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga. F [JOHN AMIS  |  AP]
A worker gets ready to pass out instructions in how fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga. F [JOHN AMIS | AP]
Published Jan. 9

Better late than never. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement this week of a new statewide committee to work to ensure every Floridian is counted in the 2020 census is a step in the right direction. Getting an accurate count is vital for the state, and it should not be a partisan issue. While Florida is significantly behind other states in preparing for the census, it is not too late to start making up for lost time.

DeSantis appointed Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez as chair of the statewide Complete Count Committee. Its members include representatives from the business community, minority groups, veterans and others who can help spread the word about the census and its importance. The statewide committee should work closely with similar local committees that are working in Pinellas County and elsewhere to encourage everyone to participate.

The census occurs just once every decade, and it matters. The population numbers will determine how many seats Florida gets in the U.S. House (an expected two additional seats). It determines how the federal government allocates funds to states for health care programs and other needs. And the census information isn’t just used by the government. Private businesses use it to spot population and demographic trends that help them decide whether to expand or relocate.

It’s been a bumpy road to get this far on the census. The Trump administration pushed for months to add a question about citizenship, which would have discouraged some immigrants from participating in the census because of fears of being deported. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually derailed that effort last year, and the administration ran out of time to make a new push to add the question before the census forms were printed.

Even without the citizenship issue, there are concerns that Florida and other states with high numbers of African Americans and non-white Hispanics could end up with artificially low counts. The census is relying more than ever on self-reporting in an era when fewer people respond to surveys, and blacks and Hispanics more often lack reliable Internet service compared to white residents. The Tampa Bay Times also has found that records such as voter registration and property records that census workers use to find people also are more comprehensive for white people.

Other states have been far more aggressive than Florida in trying to meet those challenges. California and 25 other states are collectively spending several hundred million dollars to try to improve census response rates in their states, the New York Times has reported. Most of those states spending money on census efforts are headed by Democratic governors, and most of the states that are not spending money on it are headed by Republican governors.

There should not be anything partisan about getting an accurate population count, and states that do not try to ensure every resident is counted are only hurting themselves. Fortunately, DeSantis has seen the light. The new statewide committee should get to work and coordinate with local efforts -- and the governor should scrape up some money to make sure this is a vigorous effort. It would be a prudent investment that would pay off many times over in the long run.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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