ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s infants and toddlers face the greatest risk of being undercounted in the upcoming 2020 census — an error that could cost the state “staggering” amounts of federal funding for everything from schools to children’s health care to food stamps.

Research of the previous census, in 2010, show that Florida had the second-largest loss in the nation from undercounting residents younger than 5 — at least $67.5 million a year for the past decade — and some advocates fear this year’s results could be worse.

“There is not one part of a child’s life that isn’t adversely affected by that loss,” said Roy Miller, founder and president of The Children’s Campaign, a statewide advocacy group. “It affects child care, it affects child welfare, it affects education, it affects health and nutrition. It’s insane not to do everything possible to count every child.”

The organization announced this week it is launching a statewide Count All Kids committee to work with faith-based groups, social justice leaders and other nonprofits to combat the ignorance, logistical challenges and government distrust that thwart an accurate tally.

But Miller acknowledges that time is short: By April 1, every household should receive a mailed invitation to participate in the 2020 Census, initially by going online or by calling a designated phone number.

Analysis by the Census Bureau found that, nationwide, 4.6% of children from birth to age 4 were missed in the 2010 Census. But in Florida the rate was 6.2% — more than 71,000 kids — roughly twice as high as the undercount rate for any other age group.

Florida’s young black and Hispanic children, who are more likely to live in poverty or multi-family households, were missed twice as often as white children.

Norín Dollard, director of Florida KIDS COUNT — part of a nationwide network that tracks children’s well-being and advocates for policy changes — said the impact is “staggering,” particularly in a state that often ranks poorly for how much it spends on its youngest citizens.

“The ones who need it the most are the very ones who aren’t getting counted,” she said. “They need Head Start. They need Medicaid. They need food stamps. And a lot of other states are doing better than we are in terms of counting them.”

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his administration “will do its part to support the federal government’s efforts” on the census by forming a Complete Count Committee to coordinate with the U.S. Census Bureau, local governments and other groups that already have their own committees to ensure a full count.

But Florida was one of the last states in the union to launch a statewide committee, and the announcement came after months of pleading by nonprofit groups to take action. There was also no indication that the effort will come with money to do the job.

Meanwhile, California is spending $187 million to promote the census.

For Florida, the biggest incentives for a thorough count are the likely addition of two congressional seats and the federal funding that is based on the results — not just for children’s needs but also for highways, hospitals, water and sewer facilities, job programs and community development block grants that can support, for instance, desperately needed affordable housing projects.

State and local agencies also use census data to plan new roads, emergency response and school locations. Businesses use it to understand market demand.

Nationally, a quarter of the population lives in areas that are deemed hard to count by Census Bureau officials because of a variety of factors — poverty, limited internet access or a high number of renters, who tend to move more frequently.

In addition, in regions such as Central Florida, where nearly half of households are headed by residents scrambling to cover basic needs, many may not be aware of the importance of the census or understand how it works.

“It’s amazing how many people who fill out the census just don’t count their own children for some reason,” Miller said. “Maybe they don’t read it very thoroughly, or they think it’s just for adults.”

Children in foster care are also often overlooked.

And in this year’s Census, advocates say Florida’s large immigrant population — including residents here legally — may be fearful of identifying themselves to the federal government, given deportation policies of the Trump administration.

“The rhetoric has been a big turn-off to a segment of the population that already feels marginalized,” Miller said.

Last year, the administration decided to drop a controversial plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the move.

But on Thursday, a national Latino leader told Congress that the failed attempt still haunts Hispanics’ perception of the census.

“They believe there will be a citizenship question on the form despite its absence and many fear how the data will be used,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, an organization that has said Florida is at particular risk.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

There are logistical barriers to counting children, too. The census begins with a mailing to each household, but families in poverty tend to move more often than other groups, or they may live doubled-up with relatives or friends.

Although the questionnaire will ask how many people in total are living in the household, some respondents may misunderstand and only count their own families. Others may worry that landlords will discover there are more people than allowed living under one roof.

This year, too, census officials are encouraging people to fill out the form online — a decision that is expected to disproportionately impact low-income families, though respondents can also call in to answer questions or wait for the traditional paper forms.

“We’re very concerned that the Census Bureau is pushing this online,” Dollard said. “A lot of vulnerable families don’t have computers, and even though you can do it on a cell phone, you still need WiFi. We also don’t know what the interface will be like. Look what happened when they launched the Affordable Care Act — the website crashed.”

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

At the League of Women Voters of Orange County, co-president Gloria Pickar said everyone should be concerned about the count, not just advocates for children or families in poverty.

“For every child that is not counted, it erodes the quality of life for all of us,” she said. “Those are dollars that are not coming into our community, so communities (may) raise taxes to find the funding … or the issue will come back to us in other ways. Just because you don’t count a child doesn’t mean his or her needs go away.”

———

©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

—————

PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194)

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

Recommended for you