The unusual amount of idle time Americans are experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic means ample time to complete the 2020 Census.

The Census, which is conducted every 10 years, is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. It counts the population in the United States and its five territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 2020 Census marks the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790.

“It’s your civic duty as a citizen,” said McMinn County Mayor John Gentry. “We live in a republic form of government — a federal system of government based on representation — and our Founding Fathers said you had to have equal representation. The Census is what ensures that equal representation in the halls of Congress — that’s where your voice is heard.”

Census results determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

“It trickles down even to the county level,” said Gentry. “The Census determines how the county draws up the districts for county commission based on population. We have five districts in McMinn County and we have to make sure that those five districts are as equal in population as possible.”

The Census also provides data that helps lawmakers and others provide services, products and support for communities. Census data helps to determine how federal funding is allocated for hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other projects and entities.

“Not only does it form our representation; that same logic then plays a part in formulas that are used to reallocate your tax dollars,” said Gentry. “You want the best, most accurate count possible because that’s the number that’s going to be used for 10 years. The Census is an equitable means to allocate resources to governments and communities, so we need it to be accurate.”

Each U.S. household should have received an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire between March 12 and 20. Responses can be submitted online, by phone or by mail.

“Seeing a nation come together and neighbors taking care of neighbors, a lot of people ask ‘What can I do,’”said Gentry. “This is an easy thing that not only should you do, but it’s the law to do and the right thing to do. We (as a nation) value the individual and we want each individual counted.”

April 1 is a key reference date for the 2020 Census. When completing the Census, respondents will include everyone living in their household on April 1, 2020.

Between May 27 and Aug. 14, Census takers will interview households that have not already responded to the 2020 Census to ensure everyone is counted.

“If you want to prevent a stranger from knocking on your door three months from now, go online and, in six minutes, take care of it,” said Gentry.

Visit 2020census.gov to complete the Census.

If someone visits a home later this year to collect information for the 2020 Census, residents should make sure they have a valid ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.

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