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As Florida's Response Lags, Census Takers Race To Complete Count Door-To-Door

So much depends on a complete and accurate count of the nation's residents as the pandemic demands more government services.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw off the Census schedule by nearly four months. Now the race is on to complete a count, which is now more critical than ever because of many government services that depend on its accuracy. Time is running out for Americans to be counted in the 2020 Census. Marilyn Stephens is the assistant census manager for the southern region. And she said a near field army's worth of census troops are now going door to door.

"In our seven state region, we have maybe 75,000."

She explained these are not volunteers, but well-compensated, trained professionals.

"In Florida, I believe our hourly rate went up to $22 an hour, so that was pretty attractive to a number of people as well as getting 58 cents a mile for their travel."

They are trained to do their job with the proper precautions.

"First of all, our staff must wear a mask. They are mandatory when they are on duty. And of course we provide them with hand sanitizer. They must practice social distancing to be 6 feet away from the respondent and all interviews must be conducted outside."

Door-to-door scammers often impersonate census takers. So Stephens said real enumerators come loaded with identification so citizens can be confident they're the real deal.

"They will have a photo ID and a census bag that will have the census insignia on it and a device that will be used to conduct the interview. It will have the Census Bureau and Department of Commerce insignia on it. If no one responds at the door, we will leave a 'notice of visit' card that will let the household know that a Census enumerator was there to interview them for the 2020 Census."

In many cases, she added, the enumerator will try to get back to that location the same day in hopes someone will be home. Or perhaps within the next day or two. But the heat is on for the count to be completed. Just as the census was starting to gear up its door-to-door campaign in March, the pandemic hit. That set things back by some four months. And Stephens says the in-person census taking will wrap up the end of September. Still, she insists there's time for folks to do this on their own.

"You can go to: www.my2020census.gov and I guarantee you in less than 10 minutes - most people say it takes 6 to 7 minutes to complete it online - you will be done with the Census. Or you can call and talk with a representative at: 844-330-2020."

But Florida is even lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to Census response. As of now, the state's response stands at just under 61 percent. The national rate is 64 percent. Stephens understood that filling out census forms may not have been the most urgent thing for most folks since the arrival of COVID and its related catastrophes. But she insisted that very fact makes an accurate count of all Floridians more crucial now than ever.

"Title One funds, as well as special education (money.) Now we have to provide all the children with equipment in going to this 'some-distance-learning/some-on-site' (situation.) Of course, the hospitals are looking for resources because they're serving more people on an average day than they would in a normal situation. More people are applying for social services such as the SNAP and WIC programs. Many more people are seeking affordable housing, unemployment benefits, services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels and transportation as well as public transportation. Highway construction and planning, services for veterans. The state depends on more than 140 federal programs."

And who knows? Florida could even get an additional member of congress out of the deal.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

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