Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Help Me Howard: Census
A survey is being mailed to South Floridians that asks for personal information. And guess what? If you don't fill it out you are warned it could be a federal offense. A scam? No. And for one South Florida woman its scarery. Which is why she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN--Lauren is heading to Thailand this fall for a vacation and wants to learn to speak the language.
Lauren Goodall: "It's hard. That's one of the hardest languages there is."
But now she is worried she will never make it to Thailand.
Worried that by then the federal government might be looking for her.
Lauren Goodall: "When I get to the airport and I show them my passport to leave this country they can say we have a warrant out for you. We have a federal warrant."
Lauren's big crime...
Lauren Goodall: "You didn't fill out your census."
Lauren got this survey in the mail from the Census Bureau with its long list of questions.
Lauren Goodall: "Just question after question. They say it takes 38 minutes to fill out. I don't want to give them 38 minutes of my time."
And Lauren considers all the questions a little on the nosey side.
Asking how much her mortgage is, how much she pays in taxes, what her electric bill runs and where she works.
Lauren Goodall: "It's my information. OK. I don't even put my bank information on my computer I'm so paranoid about identity theft."
So Lauren ignored the questionnaire. The Census Bureau then sent her a second one with a warning.
Lauren Goodall: "If I don't fill it out they're going to send somebody to my door to help me fill it out. I don't want this."
When Lauren still refused to fill out the questionnaire she was reminded of a warning from the good old government.
Lauren Goodall: "I saw on the envelope that it's a federal offense if you don't fill it out. I want to know what the penalty is."
Could Lauren go to jail for refusing to give up private information?
She could not get anyone at the Census Bureau to answer that question.
So to see if this could turn into a federal case, she called Help Me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "The survey is randomly sent to two and a half percent of Americans and if you refuse to fill it out you can be fined $100 because there is a federal law that requires you to fill it out. And listen to this... if you falsify information when you fill it out you can be fined $500."
Help Me Howard contacted the U.S. Census Bureau who admits they rarely fine anyone for not filling out the survey.
But they say they will call Lauren and maybe even send someone to her house in hopes of getting her to give up her information.
Howard says if Lauren still refuses, she does not have to worry she will be charged with a crime.
Howard Finkelstein: "If Lauren doesn't fill out the form she will not be arrested when she attempts to fly to Thailand for vacation. The penalties do not include jail, only fines. And speaking of jail, Lauren doesn't have to worry about her personal information getting out because if a census worker discloses it, they can go to jail for five years."
Lauren says that may be the case but if you ask her the survey is a waste of her time and everyones tax dollars.
Lauren Goodall: "Paperwork. Spending our money. People that pay taxes. Just spending our money."
Patrick Fraser: "And Lauren is right. It cost $6.5 billion to do the census. But and it's a big but. That is how the federal government determines how much money to send to states. This year $100 billion in tax money will be distributed. A lot of it based on the results of the U.S. Census, so if you can spare the time to fill it out, you might help the state of Florida cash in. And, if you don't, odds are nothing will happen."
Got some questions about something? Want some answers? Contact us. We don't know everything, of course, but we will survey people until we come up with it.
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