U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke joined Mayor R.T. Rybak for an appearance at a south Minneapolis home on Tuesday where the secretary encouraged Minnesotans to fill out and mail back their census forms and take advantage of the special tax credits under the Recovery Act.

Purpose of census

"Everybody needs to fill out the census forms. I want to remind people that so much is riding on the 2010 census for the state of Minnesota," Locke stated.

The census will determine whether the state keeps its eight congressional districts. It will also affect how much the state gets in $400 billion of federal funds that go to states every year for transportation, public education, human services, etc.

Like 1790

There are only 10 questions on the census form and aside from some "quality control" questions, most questions are the same as the first U.S. Census, overseen by Thomas Jefferson in 1790, said Locke. One huge difference: The first census asked people how many slaves they owned.

Tax credits

Locke stated: "One-third of the Recovery Act [passed by Congress last year] was outright tax relief for working families. ... There are some big features in the Recovery Act that the president wants to make sure that taxpayers understand as they file their income taxes in April."

• Up to $2,500 in tax credits for families to help for their children's college expenses.

• Up to $8,000 for purchase of a first home, purchased by April 30, 2010.

• Up to $1,500 in tax credits for energy efficiency improvements to their homes such as adding insulation and installing energy-efficient windows.

• Up to $2,400 in unemployment benefits received in 2009 are tax-free.

'Huge incentive' for first-time homebuyers

"We came to Minneapolis about five years ago, and since we came here, we wanted to buy a home," said the Rev. Luisa Cabello Hansel. "When we came here it was so expensive. We thought, this is impossible." The $8,000 tax credit clinched it for her and her husband, Patrick, also a minister. They bought a house on the 3300 block of 18th Avenue S., where Locke and Rybak spoke Tuesday. The house had been through foreclosure and rehabbed, said Rybak. The tax credit was "a huge incentive," said Cabello Hansel.

Web sites

The White House offers a "Tax Savings Tool" to check your eligibility for new tax benefits: www.WhiteHouse.gov/Recovery.

The Census Bureau has a website to see the participation of your state and community in returning the census form: 2010.census.gov/2010census.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382