The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
Happy New Year Harris County! I know you all are just as happy as I am to say goodbye to 2020. We’ve faced so many dire challenges over the last year — unemployment, financial devastation, social isolation, illness, and death. We’ve sacrificed so much to stay apart and keep our community safe. And I’m sorry to say that, though it’s a new year, we are not where we need to be to end this pandemic. The number of people in our hospital system for COVID-19 continues to rise, again threatening the ability of our healthcare system to keep up and adding even more strain to our frontline healthcare workers. And we have yet to face the impact of all the gatherings that took place over the holidays. I go into further detail on our current situation and the ensuing state restrictions in a video here.
But we do have reasons to look forward to the new year. The incredible development of a COVID-19 vaccine is a testament to the power of modern medicine, science, and the tireless efforts of researchers and institutions — many from right here in Harris County. We have been working for months to plan for the arrival and distribution of vaccines, and our Public Health Department has been working diligently to prepare and ensure local clinics are registered and ready. We are currently in phase 1A and 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, which means we are vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, residents of long-term healthcare facilities, essential workers, residents over 65, and those with chronic health conditions.
So far, Harris County’s role in vaccine distribution is limited. We were given a very small number of vaccines (around 8,000 so far, in a county of 5 million residents) to distribute to qualifying individuals who might have problems receiving them elsewhere, such as teachers, funerary directors, and home healthcare providers. Given the very small numbers, we are not currently in a position where we can reasonably offer vaccines publicly. The County as a whole at last has received just over 200,000 vaccines for individuals in phase 1A and 1B, the bulk of which are being distributed by non-governmental providers like pharmacies and hospitals, but the number of qualifying individuals in Harris County is many times that number. We are advocating for more vaccines for Harris County Public Health to distribute and, more importantly, for our community. We will keep you informed as more information becomes available. In the meantime, we will continue distributing vaccines efficiently, fighting to address disparities, and advocating for our community. For the most current information on vaccination supply and distribution from the state, please visit the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 Vaccination webpage here.
So many people are hurting right now – grieving the loss of loved ones, struggling to pay their bills, or both – and I have to ask you to endure this pandemic and its accompanying restrictions a little longer. We’re in a very precarious situation. Unless we see any major changes happen fast, things are likely to get much worse before they get better, even with a vaccine. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have a very long way to go. Please, keep social distancing and wearing a mask when you are in public. Get vaccinated if you are eligible. Let’s get to that finish line having saved as many lives as possible.
Harris County Doubles Commitment to Houston Food Bank to Fight Food Insecurity During Pandemic
During these difficult times of economic hardship, improving food security in Harris County is an urgent issue for many families that may have limited funds to buy groceries. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court in mid-December doubled their commitment to the Houston Food Bank and pledged 200 county workers to help meet the needs of Harris County families. These resources will help to distribute over 4 million pounds of food every month over the next six months for those in need. Harris County has also committed funding for the purchase of millions of pounds of food.
New Broadband Office to Oversee Harris County’s Access to Broadband Internet
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court continue to make progress in ensuring that every Harris County resident has access to what has proven an essential basic service this year: broadband internet access. On December 8, Commissioner’s Court approved a new County Broadband Office which will consist of four new full-time employees. The Broadband Office will be tasked with developing a long-term broadband strategy and overseeing efforts to improve access, affordability, and innovation related to digital connectivity long term. The new positions include a Program Manager, Technology Liaison, Policy Analyst, and Budget Analyst. The new Broadband Office is part of Harris County’s $15 million initiative to invest in broadening internet access for all Harris County residents and will be housed under Universal Services.
Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Program Provides Over $61 Million in COVID-19 Relief Grants to 51,166 Families
Harris County and partner Catholic Charities completed disbursement of $61.4 million to over 51,000 families through the Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Program. The fund, administered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, came from the County’s CARES funding and provided a one-time $1,200 payment to a total of 51,166 eligible households. The fund was entirely need-based and could be used for any type of emergency expense (housing, food, utilities, healthcare, childcare, transportation, etc.). To ensure fairness and given the fact that the applications vastly outweighed the funding, families were selected from the application pool using a random statistical model that ensured no discrimination.
“Since March, tens of thousands of our most vulnerable residents have endured an unprecedented financial disruption through no fault of their own,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “The county’s COVID relief funds have seen record numbers of applicants, and I’m pleased to see how quickly these payments have been disbursed to more than 50,000 families. We acknowledge a one-time payment is not enough, but it is my hope that at least some of the burden has been lifted for folks hardest-hit by this pandemic. In the new year, we will continue to direct available resources to those in need.”
To meet the eligibility requirements, applicants had to live within Harris County; could not have received prior CARES assistance; had to prove pandemic-related hardship (e.g., unpaid bills); and had to meet the required financial threshold (e.g. one member of the household had to be enrolled in a public assistance program, or the total household income could not exceed 60% of the HUD Area Median Family Income). A detailed list of the criteria and acceptable documentation are still available at CatholicCharitiesHelp.org. For information on other funds and COVID-19-related financial assistance, please visit ReadyHarris.org.
Overall, Harris County has disbursed over $200M in assistance to individuals, renters, and small businesses.
Watch Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Countdown Harris County’s Top Ten 2020 Accomplishments
We know it’s hard to believe, but 2020 wasn’t all bad. Click here to watch Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo countdown the top 10 things that prove we actually accomplished quite a bit and to say goodbye to the infamous year. 2020, bye!
Harris County Begins 2021-2022 Fiscal Year with New Reforms to Streamline Budget Process
The Harris County Fiscal Year 2022 budget and planning process is occurring in the midst of the largest public health crisis and economic downturn in the last 80 years. The economic toll on Harris County and its residents has been severe. Since January 2020, over 100,000 net jobs have been lost. With employment and income down, industrial and commercial property values and other revenue drivers for the County have been and will be affected. This coming fiscal year, the County will face tough decisions about which priorities to fund. However, the County will be better prepared to make those decisions due to new, strategic guidelines implemented this fiscal year.
At the direction of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court, Harris County has undertaken significant reforms of the budget process to ensure residents get the most effective return on their dollars. Six new reforms, listed below, will modernize the process to be more strategic, evidence-based, and forward-thinking. The key six reforms that guide Harris County’s budgeting are:
- Focus on Goals
- Invest in Service
- Measure Results
- Plan for the Long Term
- Stay Fiscally Responsible
- Improve Governance
While progress has already been made, each multi-year reform includes short- and long-term goals. For more detailed information about the Budget reforms, click here. To learn more about the Harris County budget, visit the Harris County Budget Management Department at budget.harriscountytx.gov.
Harris County Partners with City of Deer Park on New Flood Mitigation Projects
The Harris County Flood Control District has entered into a partnership with the City of Deer Park to plan and construct a stormwater detention basin in the Armand Bayou Watershed. The partnership also allows for storm sewer improvements on city property to address repetitive flooding to both homes and streets within the Heritage Addition neighborhood. The County will cover half the $4,095,000 cost.
Harris County and City of Houston Align Resources and Data For More Collaborative Pollution Control
Coordination between city and county is vital for effective pollution control in our region. To ensure that local governments are on the same page when monitoring, investigating, and enforcing pollution levels, Harris County Pollution Control Services has entered into a 20-year agreement with the City of Houston to improve coordination on environmental work. This memorandum of understanding (MOU) lays out procedures for any possible future county-city partnerships for joint pollution and environmental monitoring, investigations, and/or enforcement. The agreement was developed as part of the joint City-County Collective Impact Grant funded by the Houston Endowment which promotes better data-sharing and enforcement between the two local governments.
Commissioners Court Approves Pilot Program to Support Substance Abuse Prevention in Harris County
Regrettably, the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic is not the only epidemic our nation faces. The Opioid Epidemic continues to claim lives daily all over the country. In 2018, overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people. In Harris County, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. Earlier this month, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved funding for a year-long pilot program to support substance abuse surveillance and prevention activities. The Integrated Family Planning Opioid Response Pilot Program will be administered by The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, and aims to prevent opioid death and increase access to treatment and recovery services. The County will provide $309,434 to fund the pilot.
Harris County Commits to Funding for Youth Violence Prevention Writing Program through 2025
The power of the written word is immense — it can relate information, entertain, express intense feelings, and help the writer work through past experiences and plan for the future. On December 1, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved a new grant to help expand a youth violence prevention program in Harris County that uses writing as its weapon. The Do the Write Thing Challenge is a nonprofit organization that teaches at-risk middle schoolers how to constructively deal with anger, slights, bullying, and other conflicts without resorting to violence. Students at participating schools write essays, stories, plays or submit other compositions about how violence has affected them, the causes of that violence, and what they can do to stop violence. Each school picks a female and male winner, and their work is entered in a regional competition, which sends winners to Washington, D.C. to be honored at a national ceremony.
The non-violence, anti-bullying, and anti-truancy program will receive a grant of $100,000 a year for a maximum of five years from the Harris County General Fund. The Harris County Community Services Department will oversee the program and review an annual report on its progress. The program has served more than 15,000 students in Harris County since 1999.
Harris County Commissioner’s Court Takes Steps to Establish Emancipation Trail, Toll Road Hike and Bike Trails
Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court made steps towards establishing the Emancipation Trail, a tribute to African-American history in the region, as well as building hike and bike trails along toll roads throughout the county. Commissioner’s Court approved a request from the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) to amend a previously issued authorization to negotiate with contractors to develop trail and bike planning along the Toll Roads to include “regional trail development” of the Emancipation Trail, which would run from Galveston to Emancipation Park. As a result, two firms are now tasked with conducting separate planning studies and developing detailed plans for trails along the toll road system and Emancipation Trail. The proposal for the Emancipation Trail should be completed in 9 months and will include a history behind the trail, proposals for how the trail should look, and input from expert sub-consultants with historical knowledge of the Emancipation Trail.
2021 Declared Year of the Library in Honor of Harris County Public Library 100th Anniversary
In the year 1921, the Harris County Commissioners Court established the Harris County Public Library with a budget of $6,500, with which first Head Librarian Lucy Fuller set up twenty-six library stations in schools, businesses, and private homes. By the time Lucy Fuller left the organization in 1925, HCPL had expanded its collection to nearly 23,000 books at 67 stations across the county, as well as its first purpose-built library building in Goose Creek. In the ensuing century, HCPL has continued to honor the vision of Lucy Fuller and the librarians who followed. The HCPL collection now totals over 1.8 million physical and digital titles, and its mission has grown to encompass innovative educational programs and services unimaginable at its founding. HCPL remains committed to providing a broad and growing array of pathways to literacy while ensuring free and open access and enrichment for all residents of Harris County. In honor of the library’s 100th anniversary and its future as a vital resource for our communities, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court declared 2021 the Year of the Library in celebration of a century of learning, literacy, and growth. Though we can’t visit right now, most HCPL locations offer curbside pick-up — celebrate with us and check out a book today!
HazMobile to Conduct Collection of Household Hazardous Waste in Community
HazMobile will be collecting household hazardous waste (batteries, oil, paint, and antifreeze) in the community during December and January. The remaining dates and collection locations are:
- January 16, 2021 at the Crosby Community Center at 409 Hare Road in Crosby
You can also drop off hazardous waste via appointment at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Appointment slots for hazardous waste drop-off are filling up fast, so book your appointment far ahead of time. To make an appointment, visit the Household Hazardous Waste webpage here. For a full list of acceptable materials for drop-off, click here.