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Houses across the country began receiving census forms late last week, while the government office leading the effort remains understaffed to handle the monthslong count of every person in America.

The U.S. Census Bureau has hired nearly 93% of its intended 2.6 million nationwide goal, according to the bureau, but efforts in Hamilton County are well short. As of Feb. 24, the census has hired nearly 2,400 workers in the county, less than two-thirds of its goal for the 2020 count. Out of the 21-county area of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia surrounding Chattanooga, only Coffee County has met its hiring goal.

The local challenges reflect a nationwide problem. A Government Accountability Office report published in February found the Census Bureau was behind its overall hiring goals and partnerships with local organizations.

The report, presented to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last month, said the bureau's recruiting efforts have been ineffective for hiring people to carry out the national count. The bureau is not on pace to reach its goal of 300,000 local civic partnerships and preparing its computer systems.

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US Census Bureau Hiring numbers reflect totals as of Feb 24 / staff graphic by Matt McClane

"Where the risk is, is just time. We are in a pressure cooker of time to get things done," said Nick Marinos, the GAO's director of information technology, during the hearing.

Steven Dillingham, U.S. Census Bureau director, has denied his organization was not prepared.

The count every decade determines the allocation of $1.5 trillion of federal spending across the country, including to schools, hospitals and emergency responders. The low unemployment rate nationwide may be affecting people's willingness to apply for the temporary census jobs, which vary in pay by state. Hamilton County census workers will be paid $19.50 per hour.

On Thursday, around 135 million households should have begun receiving census forms with information about how to respond by mail, phone or online. Door-to-door visits to people who have not responded will begin in May, according to the bureau. The majority of households in Hamilton County will be encouraged to respond online. Surrounding, more rural counties will receive information to respond by mail, according to the bureau.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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