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Politics / Issues

Citizenship Question Still Clouds Upcoming U.S. Census

Census Taker walking toward door
U.S. Census
The federal government will begin its massive effort to count everyone living in the U.S. beginning April 1, 2020.

The federal government will begin its massive effort to count everyone living in the U.S. beginning April 1, 2020. But a cloud still hangs over the process because of a citizenship question that may be on the form.

It affects the amount of money counties and cities get for everything from transportation to health care. But whether the census will reflect the actual popuation may hinge on an upcoming court ruling. That will determine whether the forms will include a question about U.S. citizenship. Many believe this will mean undocumented people won't take part, pushing down the number of people counted.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said he's hoping the issue will be resolved by next year.

"That's a difficult one," he said at a news conference when asked about the citizenship question. "Because there are a lot of people that may not want to do it, because of the mere fact that they feel they might be putting themselves in jeopardy. And that's unfortunate. But the courts will rule on that."

Ana Curas of the Central Florida division of the U.S. Census Bureau says undocumented people who choose not to fill out the form could affect the amount of money counties and cities get for a lot of programs.

"If you only count 100 out of 500, all 500 are going to be impacted and affected by not receiving the federal funding that they need," she said, "not only for one year, we're talking about for the next decade."

Census_2.jpg
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
From left, Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller, Ana Curas of the U.S. Census Bureau and County Commissioner Pat Kemp

Next year's census will also be the first time questions can be answered online, as well as in person.

Florida gained two new House seats in Congress after the 2010 census for a total of 27, tied with New York and trailing only California and Texas.

With Florida having passed New York in population over the last decade, it is expected Florida will gain one or two seats in Congress, while New York and several other mostly northern states are expected to lose some representation.