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‘The census is so important’

Tim Croft

Port St. Joe Mayor Rex Buzzett has taken aim at the 2020 census.

Since cards went out in the mail last month, Buzzett has frequently reminded the public the importance of the decennial census.

The impacts from this census will be felt for the next 10 years.

Last week, Buzzett suggested that anybody having trouble filling out the form, which consists of about 13 questions focused on where you lived as of April 1, contact City Hall.

Buzzett has also floated the idea of setting up a desk and computers at the fire station to facilitate the count.

“The census is so important,” Buzzett said. “Everybody needs to be counted.”

County officials have also been concerned, particularly given damage to Gulf Correctional Institute and the Gulf Forestry Camp.

The Florida Department of Corrections has already determined the GCI annex will not be re-populated which is roughly 10 percent of the county’s inmate population pre-Hurricane Michael.

And in 2010, the 16,000 or so population established in that census that the county, state and federal government has relied on the past 10 years was in part a result of more than 3,000 prisoners counted as part of the population.

The legality surrounding whether inmates should or should not be counted remains unsettled, despite a Jefferson County case in which the judge ruled they could not.

But, whether counting inmates or not, Gulf County starts the census at a deficit.

The impacts and displacement from Hurricane Michael is also a significant factor, but to what extent remains an unknown.

And that has local officials concerned.

“The census is important for everything from road funding to school funding,” said Port St. Joe City Manager Jim Anderson.

In fact, the importance goes beyond that.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, data from the census is linked to the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funding each year for programs impacting housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy.

The census will also be used to draw boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts and determines the number of seats the state earns in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Responding to the census is not only your civic duty; it also affects the amount of funding your community receives, how your community plans for the future, and your representation in government,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And thus far in the campaign, and, yes, there is a pandemic in our midst, Gulf County and the two municipalities are not exactly adhering to their civic duty.

As of the most recent count update at the Census Bureau dashboard, just over 30 percent of county residents had responded.

The state average per county is 57 percent.

The only Northwest Florida county with a lower percentage of participation to date is Walton.

Port St. Joe’s rate of response was in the mid-40s percentage-wise.

The cards from the Census Bureau with code and information to submit information online have gone out.

“It is very easy, takes just a few minutes,” Buzzett said.

One can also provide the information by phone or mail, the information is on the card.

The Census Bureau announced earlier this month that it would resume field operations, opening offices and going door-to-door under CDC guidelines and additional declarations from individual states.

The revised schedule for completion of data collection is Oct. 31.