The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
We have crossed the one year anniversary ofPresident Joe Biden signing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help Americans recover from the effects of COVID-19. Over the past year, we have used ARPA funds to make historic investments that touch every aspect of Harris County life –- education, housing, health, and jobs. Below are some of the projects that our County has invested in to get our residents back on their feet:
Worked with the City of Houston and a network of nonprofits (led by BakerRipley and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston) to distribute rental assistance to more than 70,000 families and landlords, a model referred to as an “exemplar.”
Helped 40,000 families with past-due bills or other emergency expenses via $159 million in direct assistance.
Provided safe and stable housing for people experiencing homelessness. We reduced homelessness by 1,000 people at the height of the pandemic, and 20% over two years (more on this below).
Supported small and micro businesses with $30 million in small business grants to assist 2,577 small businesses.
We’ve also invested in childcare access, early childhood education, tackling neighborhood blight, lead remediation, digital access, food distribution, and integrating the county’s social services safety net. And we won’t stop — we are always looking for cutting edge, data-driven, and research-based solutions to make the quality of life in Harris County better for every one of our residents. Fortunately, Harris County has a strong network of dedicated nonprofits and community leaders who work side-by-side with local government to improve lives. We’re so proud of everything our community has achieved by working together!
Harris County Begins Providing Second COVID-19 Vaccination Booster to Qualifying Residents
Use of Harris County COVID ICU and general hospital beds are at the lowest levels they have been since May 2020, and we are at the second lowest COVID-19 threat level: Yellow. This is great news, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the pandemic is over –- new cases are plateauing and have stopped decreasing.
We can’t let our guard down, and our strongest defense against the virus is vaccination, which is proven to be the best way to prevent serious outcomes from COVID-19. The FDA approved a second COVID-19 vaccine booster for select groups of individuals and Harris County Public Health is now administering the 2nd booster dose of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at all our vaccination sites. If you are over 50 or immunocompromised and received your first booster at least 4 months ago, you can now get a 2nd booster. Visit ReadyHarris.org or call 832-927-8787 to schedule an appointment for your booster shot. We encourage you to make an appointment, if possible, as only limited walk-up opportunities are available.
Community COVID-19 Homeless Housing Program Leads to 20% Drop in Homelessness Over Past Two Years
Harris County’s hard work to combat homelessness is paying off. New data released by the Coalition for the Homeless reveals a 21% decrease in homelessness from January 2020 to January 2022. The decrease was the direct result of the Community COVID-19 Homeless Housing Program, a joint city and county program launched in October 2020. Instead of primarily utilizing shelters and short-term motels to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the homeless population, the city and county strategically deployed permanent housing as its response within the homeless community. More than 7,000 individuals experiencing or at-risk of becoming homeless were housed in the first 14 months of the program.
The city and county jointly funded the Community COVID-19 Homeless Housing Program with more than $65 million of federal pandemic-related funds. In January of this year, the City and County announced an additional $100 million investment to extend and enhance the Program through 2024. Under the coordination of the Coalition for the Homeless, more than 100 agencies of the homeless response system “The Way Home” worked together to house a record number of individuals and reduce homelessness below pre-Harvey levels for the first time since the storm.
“This incredible news shows that we’re capable of tackling the most intractable social problems we face when we work together to do it,” said Harris County Judge Hidalgo. “It speaks volumes that even in the face of this painful pandemic we’ve managed to reach this milestone.”
The recently released data on the region’s homeless population was compiled through the 2022 Annual Homeless Count & Survey managed by the Coalition for the Homeless. To ensure accuracy, this year’s count returned to the identical methodology used prior to the pandemic. More than 475 volunteers spent three days canvassing the region’s streets, bayous, woods, parking lots, etc. locating individuals who may be experiencing homelessness. The data showed the number of individuals experiencing homelessness (on the streets and in shelters) throughout the County on any given night was reduced from 3,753 in 2020, to 2,964 in 2022.
Harris County Bail Bond Board Votes to Change Minimum Bail Bond Payment to 10%
Every life we lose to violence in Harris County is a tragic loss for the family of the victim and our greater Harris County community. We are so grateful to our local law enforcement, public officials, and community organizations who are fighting tirelessly to combat the rise in crime that is happening here and around the country following the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, our community won a huge battle in fighting crime when the Harris County Bail Bond Board voted to change the minimum required bail bond payment to 10% of court ordered bond for violent crimes. Bondsmen typically post the entirety of the bond amount and collect a percentage of that bond from a defendant as payment. However, many bondsmen had been agreeing to one to two percent payment, allowing many more defendants to get out on bond than usual despite the increase in high bond amounts set by judges for felony cases. A majority of Bail Bond Board members joined Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in voting for a 10% bond requirement to end “cheap bail” for serious crimes. This latest development is another important piece in the County’s efforts to reduce crime, from increasing funding for all law-enforcement agencies, to investing in research-based data-driven crime-fighting police and community programs, to fighting Harris County’s long standing court-case backlog.
Fraudulent Paper Plates Report Reveals Cost to County and Need for Statewide Reform
Not all cars with paper plates in Texas are recently purchased and just driven off the lot. A lack of state regulation has made it easy for anyone to register as a car dealer and print as many temporary plates as they please, which has led to a black market for paper plates for use in criminal activity. Anyone can register their cars with fake names and addresses to commit crimes ranging from avoiding tolls to trying to outrun a robbery without getting caught.
In April, Commissioner’s Court was presented with a report providing a clearer picture of just how badly this loophole has hurt Harris County. According to the analysis, over the past six years the number of police incidents involving fake tags skyrocketed by 306%. Making matters worse, these tags resulted in a loss of more than $80 million in lost toll road revenue and new title and registration renewal fees.
The good news is that since this problem was identified, the state legislature, the state DMV, and local entities have taken action to crack down on this problem. And, last year, the state legislature required dealers to set a limit on tags that dealerships can print and took steps to restrict access to the tag issuing database. The DMV also added a fingerprint requirement and mandatory site visits for new car dealerships. Locally, our Harris County Toll Road Authority has worked with local constables on a “Tag, You’re It!” enforcement initiative to catch drivers using fake tags.
Even so, loopholes remain. The report also included policy options to tackle this problem, including increased training on identifying temporary tag-related crime and increased enforcement. However, a local solution is not going to solve a statewide problem –- we need statewide reform for temporary tag loopholes that includes more stringent requirements for temporary tags and limitations on the total numbers of tags that are issued in the state.
Harris County Child Tax Credit Initiative Pumps over $10 Million Into Local Economy
In April, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo released new data on the County’s efforts to increase adoption of the Biden-Harris Administration’s expanded child tax credit — a tax benefit designed to help families raising children. Through a county partnership with BakerRipley, Harris County helped local low-income families claim over $10 million in tax credits — money that may otherwise have gone unclaimed and will now be used to help our local economy grow.
In October last year, Harris County Commissioners Court approved $500,000 to help residents understand how to apply for and receive additional tax credits through a partnership with BakerRipley. The funds hired additional staff, supported grassroots outreach, and allowed BakerRipley to launch new mobile tax centers, taking tax support into neighborhoods to reach families who need it most. Overall, the County’s initiative helped more than 6,000 families file their taxes at no cost and with expert volunteer support, helping them avoid filing fees.
Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program Granted Additional Funding
Many in Harris County are still struggling to pay rent due to financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. Thankfully, the Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program has just been reallocated over $17.5 million (over two rounds of funding) recouped from other jurisdictions to continue providing rental assistance to people in need. These additional funds will continue to assist those in active eviction proceedings and help prevent eviction for thousands of families. The current program has successfully provided $275 million to more than 70,000 households. Visit houstonharrishelp.org to apply.
Harris County Commissioners Court Approves Resolution in Support of Trans Youth and Their Families
In February, the State of Texas issued a directive to investigate gender-affirming care for minors as “child abuse.” While the directive has been temporarily blocked, the Assistant General’s office has filed a notice of intent to overturn this ruling. Here in Harris County, we refuse to support any efforts to compromise the safety of our LGBTQIA+ youth and their families. It is critical for families and transgender youth to have safe access to resources and professional guidance to ensure a positive quality of life. Affirmation of their gender and freedom of expression are vital to how children and teens see themselves and their ability to thrive. Dismissing the needs of transgender youth and their families is negligent and poses a significant risk to their mental and physical health. County Attorney Christian Menefee and District Attorney Kim Ogg have both indicated that they will not enforce the Governor’s directive.
In March, Harris County Commissioner’s Court passed a resolution to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals to seek care and feel safe in our community and will oppose actions that negatively impact their well-being. We have a responsibility to protect all children, not target them for who they are.
Mural Celebrating Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Unveiled in the Fifth Ward
In April, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo helped unveil a mural in the Fifth Ward depicting newly appointed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and paying homage to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judge Constance Baker Motley, and Ruby Bridges. These five women have made history through their work and impact on society and lit the path to appointing Justice Jackson, the first female African-American Supreme Court Justice. As important as it is to celebrate Justice Jackson’s achievement, the mural serves as a reminder that we must continue to fight for justice and to break more barriers here in Harris County. You can see the mural in person at Finnigan Park Community Center.
Federal Government Rules in Favor of Harris County to Receive $750 Million in Flood Resilience Dollars from State
Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed Harris County will receive $750 million in flood resilience dollars from the Texas General Land Office, which was seeking to allocate Harris County and the City of Houston zero dollars despite being the most severely impacted jurisdictions by Hurricane Harvey. Houston and Harris County were originally expecting $1 billion each from this allocation. We will continue to fight for these funds and to ensure the City of Houston is not left behind. Please read Judge Hidalgo’s statement below:
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration, Secretary Fudge, our Congressional Delegation, and all involved in supporting our work to deliver vital flood control dollars to Harris County.
As the third largest county in America, ground zero for Harvey damage and vulnerability to flooding, and home to the nation’s energy industry, there’s simply no excuse to have been shut out from these infrastructure funds in the first place. HUD’s civil rights concerns are also deeply troubling and underscore the concerns we have had all along about how these funds were initially allocated. As soon as the funds arrive, the people of Harris County can rest assured that we will not waste a minute to apply this substantial influx of dollars fairly, equitably, and quickly – as we have with our own local dollars.
While this is good news, we must also acknowledge that this is merely a down payment on what is really needed to address the long term impact of climate change on our communities. We will continue to fight for a worst-first strategy to make sure flood dollars go where they are most needed.”
Adopt a Pet This Spring!
The Harris County Pets Resource Center is among the largest open-admission municipal shelters in the region and, yet, faces daily overpopulation challenges. Sadly, every Spring we see a huge jump in the number of cats and dogs in need. But there is a rewarding way for you to help! By fostering or adopting a dog or cat, you can give a loving pet the home they deserve. All animals adopted are spayed or neutered, are microchipped, receive their vaccinations, and have their pet license for Harris County. You can find out more about adopting or fostering a pet by visiting the Harris County Pets website here, or call (281) 999-3191 for more information.
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.