City of Pembroke Pines prepares early for the 2020 census

Pembroke Pines wasted no time in early preparation for the 2020 census, as some city employees are already working on an action plan for the form-filling season.

Michael Stamm Jr., director of the city’s planning and economic development department, is in charge of ensuring an accurate count of Pembroke Pines’ population.

Stamm and others are considering forming a Complete Count Committee. It would be composed of “citizens, educators, community/faith-based leaders tasked with creating awareness, cooperation and communication … in guiding the community to a successful census,” said Stamm.

The committee, he said, plans to tackle issues that normally occur during every census. Primarily, that would involve motivating people to complete the forms in a timely manner, especially those in hard-to-reach populations. This group, according to Stamm, includes minorities, non-English speakers, low-income people, undocumented immigrants and the disabled.

The greater concern is to improve people’s confidence in the form, as many people are reluctant to share such details. Under federal law, however, it is illegal for the Census Bureau to share or publish any person’s or businesses information. Nor can any information provided by participants be used against them, according to the Bureau’s official website.

“[People] who may not trust government where they are from may be discouraged to fill out the census form,” said Stamm.

Mandated by the Constitution, a census is an official survey of the nation’s population, including citizens and non-citizens. The first census was conducted in 1790 and has occurred every 10 years since.

Most people are asked just basic questions, but others are asked for detailed information relating to age, ancestry, race, sex, housing and more. Most of the questions have remained the same for centuries. However, a controversial question regarding citizenship status has been added to next year’s form.

Questions pertaining to citizenship have not appeared on a census form since the 1950s. The Trump administration is seeking to reinstate this question in the 2020 edition to know how many people in each household are U.S. citizens.

This change has already been the subject of lawsuits from some states and immigrant-rights groups, and has been criticized by many Democratic Party leaders. The issue has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to make a decision by the end of the month on whether the administration had lawful intentions and if the question should remain.

Some fear the question is racially motivated and will demotivate people to respond, thus resulting in an undercount. Stamm shares these concerns, saying, “There is a lot of apprehension, especially in a community as diverse as ours.” But the difference in the type of questions does not affect his group’s efforts in assisting the community, he said.

Traditionally, the census is completed via mail, over the phone or by a visit from a census official. This time around participants will be able to answer the questions online as well.

Stamm was proud to report that in 2009, Pembroke Pines had one of the highest response rates for a large city in the state of Florida. “We do this on behalf of the city because it benefits [us].”

Although rarely enforced, responses are required by law under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual faces a maximum of $5,000 in penalties for failure to complete the survey. Yet, no one has faced prosecution for such a violation since 1970. There is also a $10,000 fine for intentionally submitting false information.

Ana Diaz, Pembroke Pines resident and census liaison, says she is working towards “having the best possible count ever and getting the message across that the census is safe [and] easy … and it is definitely a benefit to our community.”

The census serves more than just a tool to evaluate populations across the country.

The data provided by the census determines many vital resources for the state and its people, such as the number of congressional representatives, the amount of funding for communities’ needs and services, infrastructure and more.

The Census Bureau estimates $1,500 to $2,000 is lost every year between each census for each uncounted individual.

Pembroke Pines Commissioner Iris Siple stressed during a recent commission meeting just how important an accurate census is to the city.

“We need to understand that if we don’t have a good count [of people] then we are not able as city or as a community to get programs, grants [and] funding,” she said. “We are going to have to find a way to pay for them because we are still going to be providing these services out to our residents without funding if we don’t have the proper numbers.”