As census takers are still visiting homes that have not yet replied to the 2020 Census, officials with the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service [MTAS] recently announced that the average response rate so far in rural counties is at around 60.9 percent.

MTAS’ Brad Harris recently told The Herald-News that the current response rate statewide is at around 76 percent.

“To date, 76.2 percent of housing units in Tennessee have participated, which ranks us at number 26 nationally,” Harris said. “Twenty-five percent of cities in Tennessee have a better response rate than in 2010, while just six of 95 counties have improved their response rate. The response rate for rural counties in 60.9 percent.”

Harris echoed local officials and stressed the importance of taking the census. He said that cities in Tennessee receive state shared revenues monthly, and in fiscal year 2020-21 the amount is estimated to be about $135.50 for every person counted.

“Therefore if 100 are not counted it costs the city $13,550. If 1,000 are not counted it would cost the city $135,500,” Harris said. “These funds include a portion of the state sales tax and gasoline taxes. The gas taxes are used to improve roads and streets.”

Additionally, Rhea County Executive and member of the Rhea County Census Board George Thacker said that participating in the census determines several other factors as well.

“An accurate count determines several things such as federal funding, the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congressional districts,” Thacker said. “The census is important because schools, roads and so many other things that are publically funded look at the census.”

But it’s not just public services and Congressional districts that are affected by the census, Thacker said that companies seeking to call Rhea County home also look to census data to determine if the workforce can meet a company’s needs.

“Businesses also look at demographics before deciding where to expand,” Thacker said. “They do that using the census.”

Rhea County Census Board Chair Jacob Ellis said that all information collected in the census in confidential. In fact, census bureau employees can even be sentenced to five years in prison if they are convicted of releasing census information, per federal law.

Beginning on Aug. 11, census takers began visiting homes to those people who have not yet completed the census mailed to them or completed online.

“This is an important activity because the number of people counted in our community determines how much federal funding we receive to support public safety, education, healthcare, roads and much more for the next ten years, said U.S. Census Partnership Specialist Melanie Harrison.” I urge you to cooperate with census takers.”

If a census taker comes to your door, the person will be wearing a mask and will stay at least six feet away from your door after knocking or ringing the bell. They will present a government-issued photo ID so you can verify that they are a census worker.

You are welcome to ask them for a second photo ID as well. They will also be carrying a bag with the census logo and a data collection device such as a cell phone or tablet with the census bureau logo on it. If you would like to further verify that the person is a census taker, you can call the Philadelphia Regional Census Center at 267-780-2600 and provide the name of the person visiting you.

The census taker will only ask for the name of the householder, whether they are renting or purchasing/own the home, a contact phone number, the last four digits of the householder’s social security number — never the full number — and the name, birthdate, race and relationship to the householder for each person living in the home. They will also ask whether this is the person’s primary residence. This should take 5-10 minutes.

If you would like to avoid answering these questions on your porch, you can self-respond to the census online at 2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or mail back the completed paper questionnaire if you received one.