The 2020 census count is now in full swing, but with most Tennesseans being asked to shelter in place, no one will be knocking on doors and asking residents to fill out forms any time soon.
The U.S. Census Bureau is making adjustments to get everyone in Tennessee counted, amid back-to-back crises in the state.
The coronavirus has put the Census Bureau’s field operations on hold for the time being, so the bureau is asking people to take it upon themselves to get counted.
Michelle Archer, an assistant regional census manager for Tennessee, says residents can participate online or call (844) 330-2020 if they don’t have internet access. And later this month, forms will also be sent in the mail.
Archer says filling out the census now is more important than ever.
“We can see, given this COVID-19 crisis, that a lot of the programs and health care infrastructures, we’re relying on them right now,” she says.” And the federal funding to fund these programs is derived from the population count.”
The census determines a lot of things — from how many congressional seats a state gets to how much funding communities receive for school lunches. Local, state and federal leaders will use the data from this year’s count to determine how federal money will be doled out for an entire decade.
“Now’s our time to respond, for the next 10 years, to ensure that we have the infrastructure and the programs and planning in place for our communities and for our children, over the next 10 years.”
And while census workers can’t help residents fill out forms in person, the bureau is coordinating with local leaders and organizations to get the word out virtually. Not just in communities that have been historically undercounted, but also those hit hard by the Super Tuesday tornadoes, where many people have been displaced.
Charlane Oliver, of the Equity Alliance, said at a Metro press briefing Wednesday morning that filling out the census can make a big difference in predominantly black communities, but those neighborhoods are often under-represented during the count.
“While responding to the census may not seem that important during a crisis, it is important to note that an accurate census actually helps our state and communities prepare for and manage crisis situations,” Oliver said. “For every person that is not counted in the 2020 census, our community loses out on approximately $10,000 over 10 years. It is more important than ever that households respond to the census as soon as they receive their invitation.”
According to Oliver, 36% of Tennesseans have already responded to the census.
Oliver said that residents who had to move out of their houses after the tornadoes should still be counted at their home address, if they plan to move back. And college students who have traveled back to their family homes because of the coronavirus should fill out the form with their campus address, if that’s where they spend most of the year.
Oliver warned people to be on the lookout for scammers posing as census workers, and said that no bureau employee will ask for residents’ Social Security number, bank or credit card information, or political affiliation. She also clarified that payments from the federal COVID-19 stimulus package are not linked to filling out the census.
Title 13 in the U.S. Code ensures that no personal information from the census will be shared with any other government agencies. Archer says even undocumented immigrants should feel comfortable taking part in the census.
“Their information is safe,” she says, adding that participants’ names are redacted from the census data.
The counting process is expected to continue through August, on a schedule that’s been slightly delayed due to the coronavirus. Archer says the officials are reevaluating each day when it might be safe to send field workers out into communities to help people fill out forms.
For now, the bureau is relying largely on ad campaigns and word of mouth.
“We’re really hoping that people can not only respond, but then share that message via social media platforms or any virtual connections that you all have,” Archer says.
“It’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s extremely important for your community.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.