WESLACO, Texas – The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is working with the U.S. Census Bureau to raise $100,000 for a Census 2020 Spanish language TV and Radio advertising campaign.

Details of the project were unveiled by LRGVDC Executive Director Ron Garza at the group’s January board meeting, held last week in Weslaco. The LRGVDC is the official council of government for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.

“Our individual cities in the Valley have done a great job tailoring their Census 2020 message to their communities. They have come up with their own logos, they have branded it, which is key,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian, after the LRGVDC meeting had concluded.

“However, you need a one-two punch. You need to brand it individually but also combine and use efficient resources to get the message out as broadly as we can. That is where the Census Bureau comes in.”

Garza said the plan is for cities and private companies in the Valley to, hopefully, raise $100,000 for the advertising campaign. The Spanish-language ads, produced by the Census Bureau, would run before and after Census Day, which is April 1. There would not be a local endorsement, such as, “This ad is brought to you by the City of Harlingen.”

However, Garza said the public information offices at various cities around the Valley do know advertising executives at the various Spanish language TV and Radio stations and that they can play a role in helping secure a good ad rate.

Garza said: “Our goal is to reach $100,000 for the advertising campaign and April and May are going to be the crucial months to get the message out.”

In his remarks to the LRGVDC board of directors, Garza pointed out that March 12 is the first day residents can respond to the 2020 Census. “By then everybody should have their invitation to respond.” Garza said the Census Bureau has created a number of TV and Radio ads dedicated to specific markets, including heavily Hispanic and “hard-to-count” communities such as the Valley.

“With this initiative, they (the Census Bureau) have set a goal of $100,000. That is the amount where we will get the most economy of scale so we can have enough coverage across the region,” Garza told the LRGVDC board.

“It would be TV and radio commercials specifically geared towards Spanish language TV and radio. Some cities have contributed quite significantly. There is no minimum or maximum (financial) contribution. The message helps everybody equally. It is not brought by a specific city. Nobody will know except for us who contributed to this message. We hope to air these ads between the months of February, around Feb. 15, for about three months.”

LRGVDC, along with numerous cities and counties in the Valley, have been preparing for the 2020 Census for the last year and a half. Garza said the Valley’s various Complete Count Committees have a number of marketing specialists in their teams.

“These marketing experts tell us that about that the $100,000 threshold gets you much more coverage than one city doing it (an advertising campaign) at $20,000 or $30,000. We have set a goal and we will get as close as we can.”

Garza said he hopes private companies will help fund the advertising campaign. “An accurate count helps everyone,” he said.

Census Bureau partnership specialists Mary Jane Garza (no relation) and Alberto Morales attended the LRGVDC board meeting. Mary Jane Garza praised the LRGVDC and Valley municipalities for taking Census 2020 seriously.

“Congratulations on everything you are doing,” said Mary Jane Garza. “I take care of 34 counties. But, as I look at this area, you have done more for the Census than I have seen.”

Mary Jane Garza said the U.S. Department of Commerce is investing more than $1 billion in marketing the 2020 Census.

“The dollars you are investing, plus what will be funneled down to you, will maximize that as well,” she said.

Mary Jane Garza noted that on the day the LRGVDC board of directors met, there were only 40 days until the March 12 start date for Census 2020. “When you next meet, in February, you will have exactly 14 days, so the more that we get the word out, the better.”

Mary Jane Garza said the Census Bureau is currently at the awareness stage. “I have ordered over 1,500 posters. I will bring these with me to the next meeting,” she said. “Know that the Census 2020 team is here for you. We have nine partnership specialists in this area alone.”

Mary Jane Garza said the Census Bureau has 1,500 partners in the Valley. “That means they are ready to mobilize.”

She added: “You have done a phenomenal job. I will be here at every single meeting, just to give you updates. March 20, we are supposed to go live. This means we will know the percentage of people that have responded in which tract. We will be able to come in and set up questionnaire assistance centers with you and to support you in this effort.”

Valley leaders are placing a big emphasis on Census 2020 because federal funding is tied to the number of people counted. They believe there was a big undercount in 2010 and do not want the same thing to happen this go round.

If judged by what is known as the mail return rate, which compares completed survey forms to numbers of occupied housing units that received questionnaires, the Valley did not do well in 2010.

According to Governing magazine, the national mail return rate for the 2010 Census was 79.3 percent. “States in the upper Midwest returned their forms at the highest rates. Minnesota’s mail return rate of 85.6 percent was the nation’s highest.” By comparison, less than 75 percent of households responded in Alaska, Louisiana and New Mexico.

“Much of the disparities in Census participation are tied to demographics.

African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, especially those with limited English proficiency, have historically been more difficult to count, as have low-income communities,” Governing magazine stated. “Areas with more renters and transient households similarly tend to participate at lower rates.”

In the 2010 Census, Hidalgo County had a mail return rate of 70.7 percent. The figure for Cameron County was 73.5 percent. The figure for Starr County was 61.7 percent, and the figure for Willacy County was 67.0 percent.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Mary Jane Garza of the U.S. Census Bureau.