Stephen Hudak

Orlando Sentinel

July 31, 2019 | 5:46 PM

Central Florida has been shortchanged by the federal government for decades because past census surveys undercounted people living here, elected leaders said Wednesday in a plea to boost participation and collect a more accurate tally of Sunshine State residents next year.


Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer were joined in the lobby of Orlando City Hall by Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro to announce plans to boost Florida participation in the census, which is set to launch next year.


Some Orlando-area leaders feared the region’s could be undercounted because of President Donald Trump’s initiative to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, a query critics said may have discouraged people living in the country illegally to avoid answering the survey.

But Trump announced July 11 he would drop efforts to include the controversial question on the survey.

Census Bureau research had estimated a citizenship question could have deterred 9 million people from taking part in the constitutionally mandated head count of U.S. residents. A citizenship question has not been a part of the census survey since 1950.

“We want to make Florida count,” Calabro said.

He noted the state faces challenges in census counts that most other states don’t, including a number of hard-to-count groups, notably Puerto Ricans who relocated here after Hurricane Maria; undocumented immigrants; transient laborers; and non-English-speaking people.

The Metropolitan Orlando region, which includes Osceola and Seminole counties, is ranked as the fifth-fastest-growing U.S. region behind Dallas, Phoenix, Houston and Atlanta. About 1,500 new residents arrive every week, 1,000 of whom move to Orange County.

Calabro, head of the watchdog group marking its 40th year, has been traveling the state to bring attention to the census.

“You can’t overstate its importance,” he said. “It affects virtually every area of civic society in Florida.”

He listed federal funding for affordable housing, the arts, early learning, higher education, highway construction, public transportation and water and sewer infrastructure.

He said 132 federal programs distribute $700 billion to states based on census data.

“When Florida does not get back its fair share of these tax dollars, our money goes to programs in other states,” he said.

Calabro said the tally needs to count Florida’s homeless, its prison inmates and others groups that are often overlooked.

“We’re being shortchanged in federal dollars right now as it is. We don’t want to make it worse,” he said.

Florida taxpayers send an estimated $200 billion annually to Washington.

The state, which is expected to add 3.3 million new residents by 2030, had the fourth-largest undercount in the 2000 Census, according to Florida TaxWatch research. More than 200,000 people weren’t counted then and unless participation increases the figure could grow to 300,000.

“That’s like not counting Orlando,” Calabro said.

Stephen Hudak often writes about bears in Central Florida and weird things in the Orlando area, including Orange County government. He likes snow and Ohio State but wound up in the Sunshine State, which has been good to him. He was a Pulitzer finalist for work on the FAMU hazing tragedy.

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