BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
TAMPA BAY — Saturday, October 31 is the last day to be counted until 2030. By now, we should all know the importance of taking the census since it affects everything from how many elected officials we have, our roadways, even down to earlier education opportunities such as Head Start.
Dr. Idelia Phillips, president of the Hillsborough County League of Women Voters noted it was often the things that impact Black children that are historically undercounted in census numbers.
She added that Black people often don’t participate in the census due to fear that their information is not confidential.
“We spend a lot of time in the community trying to help people understand that their information is confidential and that the enumeration is so very important, particularly to communities of color.”
Norin Dollard, chair of the Public Service and Education Subcommittee of the Hillsborough County Complete Count project noted that census agents have to take an oath not to disclose these data. The Census.gov site states, “Under federal law, the penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of not more than $250,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years or both.”
Dollard explained that the census is vitally important because of the huge amount of money that comes into Florida from the Federal Government based on census numbers.
“Forty-four billion dollars in federal money comes to Florida based on the census count. Medicaid, Medicare, nutrition, childcare – even emergency response planning is based on it,” she said.
Stressing that nearly every vital service we need is impacted by the census, Dollard added, “In fact, for every person that we miss (in the census) we lose $1,000 per person per year — or $10,000 between now and the next time we do a census in 2030.”
Both women referred to the importance of children and babies being counted as well.
The other vital reason to fill out the census is that Florida’s congressional seats are based on the census numbers. And not only in Washington, D.C., but, said Dollard, “Our school districts and county commission seats are all divvied up, based on the census count and population change, so in so many ways, it’s critical. And the fact is there are only seven days remaining to do it.”
Regarding the upcoming General Election, Phillips relayed, “You know, when we talk about voting, one of the questions that we ask the audience is: ‘Do you really think democracy can work if you don’t vote?’ And we get a number of interesting responses. But the thing that the League has used for the last two years is ‘defending Democracy and empowering voters.’ Because a lot of times, our audience members do not understand that the vote is very powerful.”
Phillips observed that communities with low voter turnout don’t realize that their complaints to legislators about street lighting, housing, and Social Security may not be taken seriously because there’s no power in that community. She noted that U.S. voting numbers haven’t improved over the years; in fact, there’s been a decrease since the ’60s. The 1968 election was the last time the U.S. voting numbers reached 60 percent.
“So, if we can help people understand how powerful the vote is, I think more people will decide to vote.”
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