The County Connection

Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

March 2022
In Harris County, we recognize that early childhood education is a make-or-break resource. We know that the positive effects of high quality early childhood programs endure throughout a child’s life, increasing their graduation rates and earnings while reducing their contact with the criminal justice system. These programs have one of the strongest returns on investment of any type of public program. Gun violence, public safety, economic opportunity, and public health – all societal challenges can be affected by quality early childhood programs.
I am proud to say that we have reached another critical milestone in Harris County’s early childhood education efforts. About 18 months ago, we created the Early Childhood Impact Fund (ECIF) and began a competitive process to find high-impact, evidence-based solutions for improving early childhood outcomes in Harris County. The ECIF attracted applicants from all over the state, nation, and even international organizations. Last month, Commissioners Court selected three programs to receive funding that complement each other in scope and intervention. They are:
  • The upWORDS Community-Based Universal and Targeted Intervention Model, implemented by Texas Children’s Hospital: A language and literacy development program that equips parents with resources to teach their young children. 20,000 children ages zero to three and their families in Harris County will receive children’s books or educational materials on early childhood development, 6,000 early childhood educators will receive training on child development, and up to 2,000 families will experience more intensive support through parenting classes, connection to developmental evaluations, maternal mental health home visits, or a variety of other programming.
  • The Safe Babies approach, implemented by the nonprofit First3Years: This initiative, which will be offered to 300 young children and their families over three years, is designed to to increase the percentage of foster kids who get reunited with their biological parents.
  • The Alliance for Home-Based Child Care Supports: This program is expected to support 60 providers and create at least 23 licensed programs that will add capacity in home-based child care which is in high demand but faces low availability and varying degrees of quality.
By investing in specific intersecting areas – language development, educator training, home-based child care, and protections for children in foster care – we stand the greatest chance to make meaningful change at a large scale. Together, these programs address development, coordinated care, and child care for the youngest Harris County residents, impacting tens of thousands of children. The programs will run for three years through 2025, with funding including a third-party evaluator to design and implement data collection and track program performance.
Harris County will no longer leave families to fend for themselves when it comes to finding early childhood resources and quality care. By committing to this roughly $8 million investment, the largest one-time investment in early childhood ever made by Commissioners Court, we are assuming a vital role in helping our most vulnerable children reach their full potential. The ECIF represents our best hope to have a long-term, scalable impact in early childhood education, and across the public spectrum.
Lina Hidalgo

County News

Service Workers Can Apply for Year of Free Childcare – Deadline is March 31st

We know the pandemic has been difficult for service workers struggling to balance health, work, and care for loved ones while having hours cut or even being let go from struggling businesses. The strain on work and finances was compounded for parents with small children at home. To alleviate stress  and costs, the Service Industry Recovery Child Care program is providing a year of free childcare to parents who work in the service industry. That includes occupations in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, food services, retail, grocery stores, furniture stores, car dealerships, gas stations, restaurants, bars, and more – and meet certain requirements. The program has more than 10,000 slots available and applications close March 31. If the slots are not filled, these funds will be forfeited away from our region.
Proof of citizenship or legal immigration status is only required for the children in care. The application is also available in Spanish. To apply, and see which occupations qualify, go to or call 713-334-5980.

Harris County Launches Interactive Map of Chemical Hazard Locations

Transparency in government means giving the public the information they need to make the decisions that affect their everyday lives. And in Harris County, residents deserve to know vital information particular to our region, like when there is a chemical hazard housed next door. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office (HCFMO) launched the new Community Right-to-Know Map of Registered Facilities. The map is a database of facilities that make or store hazardous chemicals within Harris County. Just type in an address, zip code, or small city to see any facilities near you. You can access the map here.

Harris County Launches a Bail Bond Dashboard to Increase Transparency on Bail Bondsmen, Misdemeanor and Felony Bail

The bail bond system is complex and involves numerous stakeholders throughout the criminal justice system, including the approximately 37,000 individuals that go through the system every year. In Texas, there is a legal presumption of the right to bail, meaning Texans have a right to bail in all but the most extreme circumstances. Bail is a security given by the accused that they will appear before the proper court and answer the accusation brought against them. To increase transparency around this complex system, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the development of an online bail data dashboard to inform the public about current bail bond practices in Harris County.
In February, the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) launched phase one of the interactive Harris County Bail Dashboard, where the community can view aggregate data information on misdemeanor and felony demographics, bond types and amounts, bonds by courts, and more. Results show that between 2017 and 2021, the number of felony bonds set by judges between $50,000 and $150,000 increased by 178%, and felony bonds set at over $150,000 increased by 139%. Bondsmen typically post the entirety of the bond amount and collect a percentage of that bond from a defendant as payment. However, many bondsmen are currently agreeing to one to two percent payment, well below the typical 10% that defendants usually have to pay, allowing many more defendants to get out on bond than usual, despite the increase in high bond amounts set by judges for felony cases.
These tools reflect JADs growing set of resources, reflecting the commitment of Harris County to a more transparent and accountable government. The JAD has also released several public-facing dashboards: the Index Crime Rates Dashboard, the Traffic Stop Demographics Dashboard (which measures the metric of different outcomes and possibilities during a traffic stop), The Court Appointments Dashboard, and the Indigent Defense Dashboard, among others. To learn more about JAD’s dashboards and to view dashboard user guides, visit our website here.

Harris County COVID Threat Level Lowered to Yellow

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo this week downgraded the county’s COVID-19 Threat Level Indicator from Level 2: Orange to Level 3: Yellow, due to decreasing positive cases of COVID-19 and ICU populations.
Level 3 signifies a moderate, but controlled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning a further demonstrated reduction in transmission and the local healthcare system is well within capacity. Unvaccinated individuals should continue to mask and physically distance. Fully vaccinated individuals should mask or physically distance where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
The COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine booster are available at no charge for all Harris County residents 5 and above. To find out more information, locations and hours, click here. For a complete list of indicators, guidance, and related information visit

New Immigration Sponsorship Policy To Help County Fill Highly Technical Positions

Harris County is a hotspot for business, development, and jobs, and our need for skilled workers is never ending. And the County government must compete when it comes to finding employees with specialized skills in areas such as architecture, engineering, and science. This month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved a new immigration sponsorship policy to support us in our efforts to recruit, hire, and retain the workforce we need to keep our County running smoothly.
The approved policy specifies responsibility, eligibility, immigration filing considerations, and costs for the program, which will only be considered on a case-by-case basis for highly specialized positions that are difficult to fill. The new policy will allow the County Administrator to oversee a more regulated process, and is designed to align with existing requirements of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) for employer-based immigration sponsorships.

Harris County Approves Women’s Commission to Advise on Health and Economic Issues

This week, International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world. Here in Harris County, we know how important it is to fight for the rights of women – to serve in leadership roles, to receive equal consideration for business contracts, and to be granted the assistance they need to work and earn the same as men. To honor the need for women’s input in County government,  Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court this week approved the creation of a Women’s Commission to serve as an advisory board to Commissioners Court in matters concerning gender disparities in health and economic outcomes for the residents of Harris County. The Harris County Women’s Commission will consist of nine members and will conduct research and make recommendations to Commissioners Court.

County Workforce Training Program Partners Required to Pay $15 an Hour

Working for a livable wage is essential for Harris County residents to pay their rent, buy food, pay for transportation, and so much more. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)-funded programs Hire Up Harris and Apprenticeship Systems will fund workforce training programs to train economically vulnerable Harris County residents for local jobs that earn $15 per hour or more. Harris County will be accepting proposals for this funding from local organizations, yet there is no standing requirement that applicants are held to the same standard of providing a $15 per hour livable wage for their own employees.
This month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court voted to require contracted organizations brought on to provide ARPA workforce training for Harris County residents to pay employees at least $15 per hour. Over the last three years, Commissioners Court has approved several forms of a $15 per hour livable wage policy for the County’s hiring and compensation practices and for certain types of construction project contracts.

Harris County Commissioner’s Court Passes Resolution Honoring Life of Arlene Alvarez

The tragic death of 9 year old Arlene Alvarez horrified our community and should outrage all of us. In February, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court, passed a resolution honoring Arlene’s life and expressing our County’s grief. We’ll keep fighting to make sure we do everything we can to fight gun violence because no family should have to experience such a terrible tragedy.

Harris County Extends Program Aiding Law Enforcement on Mental Health Calls to Fire Marshal’s Office

In February, Harris County Commissioner’s Court voted to extend the Clinician Officer Remote Evaluation (CORE) program to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office (HCFMO). The CORE program enables on-scene officers to video call a Masters-level clinician for assistance while responding to a mental health crisis in the community, and was found in an evaluation to increase access to mental health specialists for police officers in the field. In addition to CORE, the County has created the Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART) program, now being piloted in Cypress Station. HART is a County initiative that alleviates law enforcement from having to attend to mental health calls by sending trained clinicians to respond to these calls in their place, allowing law enforcement to focus on violent crime instead.

Harris County Approves Resolution Expressing Solidarity with People of Ukraine

During the past few weeks, we have witnessed the greatest violation of peace in Europe since World War II, with the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Thousands of Harris County residents have Ukrainian heritage and many Ukrainians and Harris County residents who stand with Ukraine have taken to the streets of Houston to protest these violent assaults on their families. This week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court expressed their support of Ukrainian residents here in Harris County, and urged peace in Ukraine.

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. Learn what items are accepted and make an appointment here.

About Judge Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body and Director of the Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.
For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here.