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How much is your census response worth? For local governments, about $1,000

David Floyd • Updated Jan 12, 2020 at 5:38 PM

About one thousand dollars.

According to Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson, that’s how much federal and state money each Washington County resident brings in per year to local governments by being counted in the U.S. Census.

“It’s really critical to us, especially from a funding perspective,” Peterson said.

At a city level, that money pays for things like street maintenance, low-income housing, transit and local education.

“State and federal funding have an impact on almost every operation that we do,” Peterson said, “and the state and federal funding formulas are derived from the census data.”

About 83% of people living in Washington County responded to the 2010 Census, which Peterson said is average compared to the response rate across Tennessee. Peterson hopes to see that number grow this year.

Peterson indicated the infrequency of the census, which happens once every 10 years, means missing out on people can have a long-term impact on the money that’s due to the city.

“If we don’t accurately capture our population and thus get our fair share of state and federal funding, then we’re forced to go to another funding source,” he said. Hypothetically, that could be a property tax increase.

In 2016 alone, Tennessee received more than $17 billion from 55 federal spending programs. That money was guided by figures derived from the 2010 Census. Across the U.S., about $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities each year.

The census also has an impact on local representation.

Compared to the “explosive” growth in Middle Tennessee, Peterson said Northeast Tennessee has experienced relatively slow population gains, which could have an impact on the number of regional representatives in the General Assembly.

“There’s a possibility that the number of representatives in the state legislature on our end could be diminished, offset by additional state legislators representing Middle Tennessee due to the population shift,” he said.

According to information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, citizens should receive on or between March 12-20 an invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census. Some households in areas less likely to respond online will also receive a paper questionnaire.

Households will receive a reminder letter between March 16-24, and if they have not responded, a series of reminders between March 26 through April 27. Census takers will then followup in person.

It’s against the law for the Census Bureau to publicly release responses in a way that could identify respondents or their households. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share answers with any other government agency.

Peterson said each county has been asked by the Census Bureau to assemble a coordinating committee to encourage participation. Peterson said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest have all nominated people to the committee to identify ways to get the word out.

One segment of the population that tends to be frequently miscounted is young children. That can be because the child splits time between two homes, lives in a low-income household, has young parents or is a newborn.

The Census Bureau reports that about 5% of kids under the age of 5, or roughly 1 million young children, weren’t counted in the 2010 Census.

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