County makes last push for census


If you haven’t filled out your Census form yet, please come to your senses.

Consider the fact that nationwide, two-thirds of all housing units have responded online, double the percentage here in Franklin County, it’s all the more important to go online, to, and fill out your form.

That is, if you want Franklin County to be able to qualify to all the federal and state aid that flows down to localities and is divvied up based on population.

Filling out the form is easy, it takes very little time, and all the information is kept completely confidential.

Now if you have questions, and provided the weather is clear, you’ll have a chance to get them answered this Friday, Sept. 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Eastpoint Library, 160 Hickory Dip Road in Eastpoint.

This treat of hot dogs and hamburgers fired up by barbecue champ John Solomon is for the entire county, not just Eastpoint.

Those who show up will have a chance to complete the Census survey online at the event, and meet with Census representatives for questions and assistance with the process.

You can visit information booths to see firsthand how your count impacts our community, and even snap a selfie to show others why your count matters to you.

The event is sponsored by the Franklin County Complete Count Committee, and the county commission.

Cortni Bankston, the administrative assistant to the county commission, heads up the Count Committee, taking over for Pat O’Connell, a zealous advocate for the Census.

Serving on the committee are County Coordinator Michael Morón; Superintendent Traci Yoder; Valentina Webb, representing the Elder Care Community Council and CareerSource; Mary Stutzman, handling statistics; Pam Richardson and Patricia Murphy, with the Apalach Counts committee; Pastor Eric Zile and Ramon Valenzuela-Lopez, with outreach to the Spanish-speaking community; Julia Houston; Evelin Martinez, a partnership specialist with the Census Bureau; Rick Watson, chair of the business and utilities committee; retired general James Donald, chair of the outreach to veterans and the homeless; David Walker, with Weems Hospital; Diane Meagh, with outreach to media; Rex Pennycuff, representing the Eastpoint Civic Association; and Pam Tullous, outreach to the Franklin County Library.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges,” said Bankston, noting that the Census’ decision not to go with paper copies, and do the county entirely by computer and telephone, has added to the difficulty in getting the county to respond.

In fact, she and O’Connell wrote a letter this past week, on behalf of County Commission Chair Noah Lockley, to Florida’s two U.S. senators, and to Congressman Neal Dunn, urging them to address the gaps in the county’s numbers.

“We write to express our concerns with the U.S. Census Bureau’s accurate population count in rural communities,” read the letter. “We ask that you please take into consideration the Bureau’s heavy reliance on internet-based responses and the lack of evidence in verifying vacant homes.

“Here in Franklin County, our self-response rates are among the lowest in the state, yet our informal surveys indicate our citizens have responded. We fear the lack of verification of vacant homes, the inability of our residents to be able to respond in ways other than the internet, and the absence of door-to-door follow up due to COVID-19 restrictions will impact our chance of receiving accurate state and federal funding for the next decade,” it reads.

“In our rural district, we have very limited to no internet access. Even with our efforts to spread mobile devices and hot spots for internet across the county, a vast majority of our residents nevertheless remain without internet access,” it said.

“Another concern we have is the lack of evidence of verifying vacant homes by the Census Bureau. Franklin County has a sizable amount of second homes, with an estimated nearly 50 percent remaining unoccupied for most of the year. With there being no database that identifies these vacant homes, we have no confidence that the Bureau can discern which should be counted as ‘unresponsive,’” read the letter to the congressman and senators.

“What we are asking from Congress, is that the U.S. Census Bureau make allowances in the final count of the 2020 Census for communities like Franklin County that have limited access to residential high speed internet and large numbers of vacant homes with distant owners,” it closed, thanking the three men for their “public service and commitment to Franklin County.”

Bankston said the committee’s cookout will kickstart a final push before the Census closes Sept. 30. She said it is not yet clear to what extent paid Census takers will follow up with those who have not responded by the deadline.

She said the county’s numbers at last count were only 32.7 percent of eligible households, about half of the 64 percent response rate a decade ago.

“Our representative said that so far Apalachicola has posted better response numbers than Carrabelle, Eastpoint, Lanark Village and Alligator Point. She said O’Connell is at work trying to plan an event in the next two weeks in Lanark Village.

“They can’t even tell is if we will have people knocking on doors,” said Bankston. “We can only try and hope these challenges will be addressed before the final count at the end of this month.

“Please do your best,” she said. “It is more efficient to do it yourself. Do not wait for the door-to-door. We’re pushing for people to do the census themselves.”

If you have questions, call Bankston at 653-9783 ext. 180 or email at                        

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: County makes last push for census


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