The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

July 2021
I am happy to report that last week we reached a huge milestone in our work to beat the COVID-19 pandemic in Harris County — over half of our eligible population ages 12 and up has been fully vaccinated and 60% has received at least one shot! This milestone could not have been reached without all of the dedication of our public health workers who have worked tirelessly to vaccinate our residents. As a result, we have seen a consistent decline in indicators such as new cases and hospital usage over the past several months and we are getting closer to Threat Level Green. The road to recovery is clearer now than at any other time since this pandemic started.
But we’re not done yet. In fact, some of the hardest work is ahead of us. We must still vaccinate the population that is hesitant or hard to reach. We are continuing to see a decline in vaccination rates in vaccines administered by Harris County Public Health (HCPH) and all providers in the County. The zip codes with the highest proportion of their population vaccinated are wealthier than the zip codes with the lowest proportion of their population vaccinated, and Latino and Black residents are underrepresented in the distribution of vaccines administered. The Delta variant of this virus is wreaking havoc on populations across the globe, particularly those where vaccination rates are low. The dangers of COVID-19 are still lurking here in Harris County for all of those that remain unvaccinated. We cannot leave them behind.
Efforts to get folks vaccinated don’t happen on their own. Since December we’ve been reaching deep into our communities, and particularly communities of color, to bring them vaccines. Over the past five months we’ve visited more than 218 locations across the county including churches, senior living centers, clinics, and high schools. We’ve made vaccines available via mobile vaccine units and stationary vaccination centers, no appointment necessary. We’ve been getting the word out about the safety and efficacy of vaccines via media campaigns and encouraging vaccinations with gift card giveaways. And this past month, to reach our younger residents, we launched the HCPH Vaccine Scholarship Program to award scholarships of $5,000 to students who have been vaccinated through HCPH. We are giving away one scholarship per week for 10 weeks to 10 lucky vaccine recipients. The scholarships can be used by students to help cover tuition, room-and-board, and books to any community college, public college, or university in the state of Texas. To be eligible, you must be 18 or under, not yet have graduated high school, and have been vaccinated at any HCPH vaccination site before a raffle drawing.
Now is the time to get vaccinated and be part of our community’s recovery. You’ve got nothing to lose — vaccines are safe, effective in protecting you and your family from the most damaging effects of COVID-19, and completely free. If you have already been vaccinated, please talk about your experience with any friends or loved ones who haven’t. Visit us at NRG Park where anyone age 12 and up can receive either the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 7:00 p.m., no appointment needed. More information is available at and those without transportation can call (832) 927-8787 to schedule a ride. Let’s get this done and put COVID-19 behind us.
Lina Hidalgo

County News

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court Pass New Initiatives to Combat Criminal Court Backlog
Right now, all across the nation, violent crime is increasing due to the pandemic and the associated economic challenges — unfortunately, the same is true here in Harris County. And, while some categories of crime are increasing, around 100,000 criminal cases are pending in Harris County, including 40,000 cases that are well past national standards in how long it should take for them to be addressed. This backlog of cases has increased by 40% since 2017, when Hurricane Harvey first spurred delays. As more and more time passes from when a crime is committed to the resolution of a case, victims feel ignored, perpetrators feel empowered, and those accused who are innocent feel left behind.
To build on other efforts to address the violent crime rate, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners County approved new actions last week to help the judicial branch of our government move through this backlog of criminal cases, including:
  • The addition of six additional associate judges to assist the 22 Criminal District Courts to reduce the backlog.
  • The approval of $600,000 dollars in funds to expand jury operations at NRG.
  • Funding for visiting judges to help support our associate judges get through cases.
  • A major and historic $15M investment in technology for law enforcement which will make body cam systems more efficient to speed up processing of court cases by making necessary evidence available quickly. It currently takes 6 months for body cam evidence that is required for a case to move forward to become available.
Previously, Commissioners Court has allocated additional overtime funding for detectives in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes, Adult Special Crimes, and Child Abuse Units to work cases in the most violent crimes through improved information sharing, expedited investigations, and targeted investigations focusing on repeat offenders and organized criminal activity in known hotspots. Commissioners Court also previously approved a resolution for the Texas legislature to add an additional criminal district court in Harris County, which passed this session. These aren’t the first actions we have taken to address the crime increase in Harris County and they won’t be the last.

Commissioner’s Court Approves New County Administrator Position to Oversee Collaboration Amongst County Departments

Harris County is a huge organization serving five million residents and aiming to tackle the large challenges of a complex region such as ours. When the Commissioners Court sets policies and objectives, there is often no clear path to ensuring accountability, a reporting structure, or project ownership, and long time periods can pass with limited or no action. To address this lack of collaboration and clarity of roles, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court have approved the addition of a new County Administrator position. The position is a management tool to help the Commissioners Court govern in a more coordinated way. It will ensure that planning and implementation are responsive to the goals and objectives of Commissioners Court, carried out effectively over time, and measured to determine whether intended outcomes are achieved. All but one other major jurisdiction in Texas has a County Administrator or equivalent position in place, as do most major counties around the nation.
“We owe it to the five million people who elected us to make sure we’re leveraging every tax dollar we have to run the government as responsively and efficiently as possible,” said County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “A county administrator will break down silos across our government and make sure when it comes to serving our residents, the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”

Department of Transportation Orders Pause of I-45 Expansion Project

Harris County has been fighting hard to improve the proposed TxDOT I-45 expansion project, which, as currently planned, won’t solve our traffic problems and will only worsen our air quality. Though we do need and deserve an I-45 project to improve this outdated roadway, we also need the plan to respect the wishes of our community and be forward thinking in terms of transportation policy.
Under law, TxDOT is required to incorporate community and environmental concerns into their design. However, after many meetings and conversations, those concerns seem to have fallen on deaf ears. In May, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the County Attorney announced a lawsuit against TxDOT which would require them to take community and environmental concerns into consideration for their design. Late last month, the Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to TxDOT sharing the concerns we have about their lack of engagement with the community violating the Environmental Protection Act. The federal government asked TxDOT to pause the project over environmental concerns and to review their compliance with the Environmental Protection Act.
This message from the Biden Administration to TxDOT is clear: You can’t bulldoze your way to a massive infrastructure project without community input or considering smarter transportation options. We can have a region with world class transportation infrastructure where people don’t spend hours in traffic, and with the highest accident rate in the nation. This is the first win in our war to get the I-45 plan our community needs and deserves.

New Direct Assistance Program to Administer 20,000 COVID-19 Recovery Payments to Families in Need

New assistance will soon be available to families recovering from the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court have approved an allocation of $32.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to provide direct assistance in the form of $1,500 one-time payments to 20,000 low-income households. This funding will provide $30 million in financial assistance, and $2.7 million for administrative costs for Catholic Charities, who will administer the program on behalf of the County.
This program will be mostly identical to the 2020 COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Program, including using a lottery selection process. To be eligible for this new Direct Assistance program, applicants must be a current resident of Harris County and have experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants’ income must be at or below 60% of the 2021 Area Median Income, which is verifiable through income documentation or participation in other public benefits. The application is expected to open during the second half of July. Stay tuned for more information on how to apply.

Harris County Commissioner’s Court Pledges Additional Funding for Emergency Rental Assistance Program

So many families have suffered the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the biggest threats to these families is losing their homes due to the inability to pay rent. The Houston-Harris County Rental Assistance Program, implemented in collaboration with the City of Houston, assists those families by covering rent via direct payments to landlords. To date, the program has assisted over 26,000 struggling households with over $129 million in rental assistance. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved $24 million in additional funding for the Rental Assistance Program to continue to support residents experiencing housing insecurity, providing payment for past-due and future rent to help families prevent homelessness. The funds will be sourced from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The American Rescue Plan Act has made funds available to Harris County, and we would like to hear your thoughts on where this money would be best spent to help our residents recover from the pandemic. Submit your input by completing the survey located here.

Harris County Implements Reforms to Jury Duty System to Increase Participation

In Harris County, serving jury duty is about to get a lot more convenient. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Commissioner’s Court approved several much-needed reforms to promote increased participation in Jury Duty, an essential component of administering our justice system. The first part of the Juror Participation Plans will require $500k to implement reforms which include providing meal vouchers, free parking, distinct parking signage to help jurors find their way, free coffee and water, and an awareness campaign to draw attention to the changes. Stay tuned for more jury duty reforms to come later this year.

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New Initiative to Provide Safety Training to Harris County Construction Contractors

Construction worker injuries are common — a research study from Workers Defense Project found that one in seven workers have been injured during their construction career. Unfortunately, workers at state and local government agencies are not covered by Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and do not have the same training requirements as private contractors. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved a new $1 million initiative to support construction worker’s safety by hiring a firm to provide Harris County’s contractors with free OSHA training and certification. The County Engineering Department will partner with the National Association of Minority Contractors, Houston Contractors Association, the Association of General Contractors, and other applicable agencies to promote the OSHA training amongst their membership.

Commissioner’s Court Declares Juneteenth County Holiday

Juneteenth marks the day, June 19th, 1865, that the liberation of slaves reached Texas, effectively ending slavery throughout the United States. This June, President Joe Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, and last week Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court declared Juneteenth an official County holiday, applying to all Harris County employees. Harris County does not adopt all federal holidays, so this will ensure Harris county employees are able to join in the celebration of Juneteenth going forward. We hope everyone will join us in celebrating this holiday honoring the liberation of African-Americans in the United States of America and the importance of freedom for all.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Commissioners Court Meetings

As part of the County Judge’s Office initiative to make local government more transparent and accessible, we invite you to get involved by viewing Commissioners Court meetings. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, and watch the official close captioned livestream here or on the Judge’s homepage here.

Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings

Harris County never stops preparing for the next big storm. And while the 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program is in full swing, we continue to seek input from community members as we implement projects in watersheds across the County. If you have a comment about a particular project, we invite you to attend the corresponding virtual meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here.

Hazardous Waste Collection Appointments

Do you have unwanted household hazardous items? Properly dispose of them by making an appointment with the Household Hazardous Waste Collections facility at 6900 Hahl Road in Houston. Appointments are available each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and during the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Learn what items are accepted and make an appointment here.