Georgia’s census outreach team gets pep talk from governor in Athens

Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday urged members of the state's Complete Count Committee to give their all to ensure every eligible Georgian is tallied in the 2020 Census. Contributed by U.S. Census Bureau.

ATHENS — Gov. Brian Kemp challenged about 50 members of the state’s Complete Count Committee gathered at the Athens Technical Institute Thursday to give their all to ensure every eligible Georgian is in included in the 2020 Census.

“It will literally shape the future of our state,” said Kemp, who reformed the committee in September after former Gov. Nathan Deal created it in late 2017.

Gov. Brian Kemp outlines the stakes of the 2020 Census for members of Georgia’s Complete Count Committee in Athens Thursday. Beau Evans/Georgia Recorder

The census tally carries high stakes for states. The once-a-decade head count influences how much federal funding states receive for Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps and other public support programs. State lawmakers also use the population count to redraw districts for Georgia’s members of congress and state legislators.

The committee is in charge of a $1.5 million marketing and outreach campaign to sell the public in Georgia on the value of completing a census questionnaire. The committee is the state-level version of groups forming in counties and cities across the country that serve as the local muscle for the U.S. Census Bureau’s push to increase census participation.

The Georgia General Assembly alloted $1.5 million for the state committee to pay for creating television and radio ads, educational social media videos and scores of billboards, posters and mailers. The budget also covers the services of Atlanta marketing firm The Networked Planet, as well as to hire Atlanta media consultants Lori Geary and Tharon Johnson to oversee the outreach campaign.

The goal is to make Georgia the No. 1 place to do census when the counting starts next April 1, said Ashley Silverman, The Networked Planet’s strategy director.

“Make no mistake, this is a competition,” Silverman told the committee. “We want to have the highest return in the country, and we want all eyes to be on Georgia.”

Outreach will focus on people living in rural areas and predominantly black and Latino communities because they might not have reliable internet access or know why being counted is important. To help reach them, the state committee includes researchers from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and Valdosta State University’s Center for South Georgia Regional Impact, who are already distributing their own marketing materials.

Thousands of free posters and other print ads have gone out in more than 30 south Georgia counties, said Darrell Moore, the executive director for the Valdosta center. 

“What we’re trying to do right now is just awareness and education,” Moore said.

The state committee is also providing how-to guides to help spread the word to minorities who are typically undercounted in the census

The guides helped Vanesa Sarazua persuade several volunteers to join her on a Gainesville-based committee after she started it in September. Sarazua is the founder of the nonprofit Hispanic Alliance GA based in Gainesville.

Sarazua said she plans to recruit church pastors with close ties to Gainesville’s Latino community, many who fear revealing their legal status or living arrangements to strangers.

But she also knows how important it is for her city and county to get an accurate count of residents so they will get the right level of funding for the public services the community needs.

“It’s a very significant thing for the city to collect that money and be able to serve its residents,” Sarazua said by phone this week. “It doesn’t matter what your legal status is. We want to know you’re here and to be able to provide services.”

Beau Evans
Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College.