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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / State Representative Yusuf Hakeem.

NASHVILLE — State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem and fellow legislative leaders warned Wednesday that Black residents and other poor-to-lower-middle-class Tennesseans face being undercounted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which could cost them in terms of political representation and millions of dollars in funding for programs.

Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat who chairs the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators' committee for the census and subsequent political redistricting, joined fellow leaders in a teleconference call to underscore the importance of participating in the once-a-decade count of the U.S. population as an accelerated Sept. 30 deadline looms.

"What we're trying to do is put forward a full-court press through the medical community, through education, through our houses of worship — how important it is in regards to the census and the impact that it has on our communities," Hakeem said.

For those who ask "why are we pushing this so much in the Chattanooga community, we have 14 census blocks that have less than 50% of the persons who've been counted," Hakeem said. "So that means an awful lot of dollars can stay off the table because we have not been able to get to those persons or not enough trusted leaders going into the communities to deal with those concerns."

Hakeem said that, while President Donald Trump's accelerated timeline to end the census on Sept. 30 has been challenged in court, "We can't count on that. We have to move forward with what we have."

Also participating in the call was Candy Johnson, a senior advisor to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

"We have taken some significant actions to ensure we are doing the best we can on a grassroots level," Johnson said as she discussed the issue of trust some have about participating in the census and answering questions.

Johnson said the census data is vital "to make decisions every day. I used it with our team as recently as yesterday as we're looking at economic inclusion for recovery post-pandemic. Where do we place educational hubs within our community to help re-skill [people]? We're looking at census data. We're seeing where those educational attainments live."

Census data was used to determine where the community placed targeted COVID-19 testing for vulnerable populations, Johnson said, noting, "We looked at what the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had listed as some of those" areas.

She also noted local communities lose an estimated $1,091 annually for each person who is not counted in the census.

Tennessee Black Caucus Chairman G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, said, "It's going to be the same all over the state when you're trying to determine which areas have not been counted."

Common denominators include communities with socio-economic challenges and communities of color, he said.

Hardaway said people need to realize that census data determines federal funding in areas including health care, economic development and housing. Citing concerns about rural West Tennessee, Hardaway also said that if there is an undercount, it may also affect the 14 Black representatives and senators serving in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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