Many of Florida’s state leaders have been taking a sadly passive approach to the census. Do Florida’s leaders have something against taking federal funds?

A staggering $20 billion was lost in federal funds because about 1.4 million Floridians were not counted in the 2000 census.


This will happen again unless Florida does a better job of counting its residents.


Gov. Ron DeSantis just announced a statewide committee to raise awareness on the census, making Florida one of the last states to do so. Cities and counties, including those in the Panhandle, are gearing up for the census, while the nonprofit sector already has acted statewide. Philanthropists are being asked to help fund the campaign to make sure every Floridian is counted.


Census 2020: How high will Florida’s population go?


Meanwhile, many of Florida’s state leaders have been taking a sadly passive approach to the census. Do Florida’s leaders have something against taking federal funds?


The impact of the census can be felt almost everywhere in Florida. About one-third of the state budget is affected by census counts — from funding for roads, environmental facilities, the arts, and education, to elder care and children’s programs. Census data is used to help businesses make decisions.


There are 132 programs that distribute approximately $700 billion to the state using data from the census, reported Florida TaxWatch. In fiscal year 2015, Florida received less in grants per capita than every other state in the nation.


Population counts signals more Florida congressional seats


For a fast-growing state like Florida, federal funding is needed just to keep up.


States that have been losing population are aggressively taking action to count everyone. For instance, a state losing population like Illinois could lose members of Congress, while states like Florida can gain members.


Meanwhile, Florida nonprofits found in July that there was no statewide coordination, no funding for census programs and no website.


OUR VIEW: We must count in upcoming census


The nonprofit initiative, called Florida Counts Census 2020, stepped in to provide funds to 80 groups that typically are in touch with the people who often are missed, such as minorities, the elderly and people who move often.


Grants will go to groups that show the ability to reach as many hard-to-count people as possible.


One advantage in getting a late start is that the Florida group can benefit from other states and national groups that started earlier — because even a small amount of money can make a difference for a small community group. (The goal is to raise $2 million; the group is about halfway there.)


By the numbers: How Florida’s population stacks up


But time is short. The first census postcards, which will be mailed in March, will contain ID numbers that respondents can use to reply to census counts online, by paper or by phone.


“It is imperative everybody is accounted for, Bay County more so than ever,” Joel Schubert, assistant Bay County manager, told The News Herald’s Tony Mixon. “We’re talking about $675 billion in federal aid.”


Residents that live elsewhere but work in the area as their homes are getting rebuilt will not count for the census in Bay County. The county has the option of postponing the census for a few years, but that could be costly.


This guest editorial was originally published by the Florida Times-Union, a sister newspaper within Gannett.


• More information: FLCounts.com.