PINE HILLS, Florida – On Tuesday, the 2020 census begins in remote Alaska, kicking off a six-month push to get accurate counts of who is living where across the nation.
The information is crucial to getting accurate population counts that can affect everything from where roads are built, where schools and homes are added, even where the next Starbucks or Publix goes in.
Another crucial function of the census is determining how much federal money a community can qualify for, which in turn affects how much federal funding certain community programs -- like Head Start and Meals on Wheels -- will receive in the coming decade.
“The state of Florida saw 200,000 omissions in the 2010 census. That equates to a $20 billion lost,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, who is a spokesperson for Florida Counts. “That is $2 billion per year on average we lost in funding. That could have gone to our schools, could have gone to our roads, could have gone to public service.”
Florida Counts provided News 6 with this map of hot zones - showing some of the hardest to count areas in the nation.
It includes a big portion of Orange County.
The map was created by the Center for Urban Research in New York, and it allows you to pinpoint exactly where you live, and how many people were counted in 2010.
The areas in yellow, red and orange are the places 2020 Census workers will be targeting, since 10 years ago, a lot of the people either got their census and threw it away, or census workers had to go door to door to get the info.
Records show during the 2010 census, there were several areas in Central Florida that had under counts of anywhere from 10 to 30 percent or more.
That equated to several community programs losing out on more than a billion dollars in federal funding.
One of those hot zones - Pine Hills - which according the Pine Hills Head Start Center Supervisor, has the largest Head Start program in Orange County, serving a total of 200 kids.
“There are so many things we could have done with that funding,” said Center Supervisor Tambra Jackson. “So many families we could have reached. So many more lives we could have touched.”
Jackson says she’s on a mission.
A mission not just to educate the children in her Head Start program, but to educate their families about the importance of this year’s census and to make sure they fill them out.
“Some people may feel like, think it doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter -- but it matters,” Jackson said. “It really matters because that’s like leaving money on the table.”
Census records show in 2010, only 68.8% of Pine Hills households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaires.
That failing grade means millions of federal dollars were not awarded to community programs like Head Start.
“Those dollars are extremely important to us. We need every dollar we can get so we can continue to provide programs and services that meet some of our neediest families. We need those dollars,” Jackson said.
Kingsford Bloomfield is a Pine Hills parent and says this program helped him as a kid and is now helping get results for his 3-year-old daughter.
“I don’t believe a community, a city can survive without programs like Head Start,” Bloomfield said. “I care about this center, I care about the 200 kids that are here, I care about my baby girl that’s here. I want her to have better than I had.”
He says there is no excuse for anyone in the Pine Hills community not to fill out the 2020 census. Especially since this year, the census is only seven questions long and can be filled out 100% electronically either by phone or computer.
“Let’s break the cycle of ‘They want my information, they are not here to help,’ and all the rest of what I call foolishness,” Bloomfield said. “Do your research, sign the paper, fill out the paper - and you will be surprised that for the next 10 years, all of the help you will get will begin to grow. And your community will grow.”
Over at Hair Action Salon and Suites, Christine Speed knows just how important federal dollars are to her community.
"We need it when it comes to roads, and potholes," Speed said. "I just had to replace a tire, so I know how it is."
But she admits, she can’t remember if she filled out the census in 2010.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t remember to be honest. I really don’t,” Speed said. “I want to say I did because I try to keep up with that. I want to say someone came to my door and did it instead of me filling out the paper.”
Once we told Speed and her clients about all the money their community could gain by filling out the census, they started getting excited just thinking about all the opportunities.
That’s because the census determines things like where to put in the next Publix, or Starbucks or where to build new houses, apartments and schools.
“We want the better-end stores, so we get better quality stuff,” Speed said.
Burney-Clark says Florida Counts is just one state group that is working with other community groups to encourage people to fill out the seven question census.
“We have the opportunity to receive $44 billion in funding to the state of Florida, to contribute to those social programs that I think are needed so desperately in the state,” Burney-Clark said.
She says those who fail to fill out the census are only hurting themselves in the long run.
That’s why Speed says she will make sure all the people who come to her beauty shop fill out the form and so will she.
"Oh definitely yes, I will definitely fill it out," Speed said. "Now that I know I'm going to make sure I do it. So I can help my community more - and that's what we all want."
In mid March, homes across Central Florida will begin getting invitations to complete the 2020 census. It will be a postcard in the mail. Don’t throw it out. You can respond to the 2020 census online, by phone or by mail.
In April, census workers will beginning visiting college campuses for a student count, as well as people living in senior centers.
In May, June and July - Census workers will begin visiting those hard-to-count areas and those homes that don’t show a record of filling out the census.