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Be Counted: AARP Tennessee Urges Everyone to Participate in the 2020 U.S. Census

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The 2020 census is underway, and AARP wants to make sure everyone in Tennessee is counted to ensure ongoing funding for vital programs that residents of all ages rely on.

The once-a-decade population count is used to redraw political lines and determine state and federal spending on nutrition services, housing assistance, health programs and other supports. It collects basic information such as age, race, sex and marital status for every U.S. resident.

With so much at stake, an accurate tally is critical, said Rebecca Kelly, AARP Tennessee state director. If people don’t participate, their area will be underrepresented for the next 10 years, she said.

“The cost to states could be large, consequential and long-lasting,” Kelly said.

Based on the 2010 figure, Tennessee received roughly $17.3 billion in federal funding for programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and low-income-housing loans in fiscal year 2016, according to a George Washington University analysis.

Federal tax money is redistributed back to the states partly based on their population, said June Iljana, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau.

“More than $675 billion is returned to local communities each year to support services everyone uses, such as transportation, health care, education, communication and public safety,” she said. “These resources are essential to the well-being of all of our neighbors.”

An undercount could lead to inadequate funding for programs including Meals on Wheels, independent-living assistance and even disaster response.

Organizations that serve older adults, such as senior centers, can also get grant money based on census figures.

Don’t fall for census fraud

Households will receive up to five mailings from the Census Bureau asking them to respond. A census taker will visit only if residents fail to do so.

For the first time, participants have the option to answer questions online. But people can still respond via phone, by mail or when a census taker comes to their door.

The census presents an opportunity for scammers, so it’s important to be vigilant.

The Census Bureau won’t send unsolicited emails, and census takers will carry identification with a photo, U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date.

They also won’t ask for your Social Security number, bank or credit card information, or donations to a political party or other cause. And they won’t ask about what hours you’re typically away from home or threaten jail time for not complying.

Some people might have concerns about responding out of fear of losing benefits or because of their immigration status. But the information is confidential and isn’t shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI or any other government agency.

“The census is 100 percent confidential,” Census Bureau spokeswoman Iljana said. “There is no risk involved.”

It’s important for everyone in the Volunteer State to be part of the official count, Kelly said. “If you don’t, the money will be directed somewhere else.”

Learn more about the census process at or call 800-932-8282.

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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