POLK COUNTY — It's time for Polk residents to stand up and be counted — or, at least, it will be this spring when the 2020 U.S. Census is taken.
At stake are millions of federal dollars, how Polk is represented in Congress and, in many cases, where boundary lines are drawn for local elections.
According to the county's Comprehensive Planning Administrator, Chandra Bennett, and Polk Vision's leader, Kim Long, the census process isn't complicated but does require substantial effort on both the local and federal levels.
The county has partnered with Polk Vision to lead the way for an accurate count, said Bennett.
The women recently briefed the Polk Board of County Commissioners on plans for Polk's census to accurately determine exactly how many people actually live in Polk County, where they live, and other bits of information that will help determine what kinds and how much federal help will ultimately flow into the county.
While the actual count doesn't start for several months, Bennett and Long have been working with agencies across the county to establish committees to help get the census message across, especially in a number of the county's more rural areas, the women explained.
According to the briefing, some areas that are historically hard to get good numbers from include around Davenport, south of Haines City, east of Lake Hamilton and northeast of Dundee. Also, Fort Meade, Eagle Lake and the Combee area have been hard to get accurate counts in the past two censuses.
One difficulty, according to Long, is areas where there are higher numbers of rental properties — for example, the Eagle Lake area.
“We need to have people from those areas spread the word that the count is coming and that it is only that, a count — nothing else.” a census spokesman said.
According to Bennett, some of the “hard to count” indicators are persons at or below the poverty level, those receiving public assistance, concentrations of minority groups, immigrants, linguistically isolated areas and migrant workers.
In mid-March, an information card will be mailed to each household address. This card will contain an address-specific password, or PIN, needed to gain access online to the census forms, explained Long.
“This year, the census is going to be primarily taken via the internet,” Long told commissioners. “But for those without access to a computer or smartphone, there will be a toll-free number they can call, and provide the call-taker the information.”
Lastly, there will be enumerators who will visit households who have not responded to gather the census information.
“All census information is protected and secure,” Bennett added.
She also explained that census data is not shared with federal, state or local law enforcement agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The count officially starts on March 23, with April 1 as the reference date, with follow-ups to households that failed to respond in May when actual census takers will be in the field.
Results will be tallied and forwarded to the office of the President of the United State on Dec. 31.