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The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
September 2020
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We got lucky, but we also did everything right as a community. As Tropical Storm Laura travelled through the gulf, our team was data-driven, relying on projected storm surge data from the National Weather Service’s Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model, traffic patterns, and evacuation timelines to guide our decisions. We carefully considered forecast and tracking information from the National Hurricane Center advisories and advice from local meteorologists. When it became clear Laura was going to be a bad storm, we considered every possible scenario and weighed the dangers with each. We discussed mandatory evacuations and were ready to make the call, knowing the herculean effort that it would take. Human life is always the priority, and when there is potential for a catastrophic event, we must err on the side of information.
I’m proud of our community’s response — we did everything we could do. Thank you to all the folks who took the steps to prepare, recognizing that hope is not a strategy. And we don’t stop when the storm takes a different course or even at the end of hurricane season — we are constantly preparing for future storms. County mitigation projects are moving forward, faster than ever before. We’ve completed 21 flood mitigation projects valued at $123 million. There are 144 active bond projects, and $427 million in bond funds have been authorized. Read more about the county’s spending on flood mitigation projects at HarrisThrives.org. We are raising bridges to safer levels and carving out millions of gallons of increased detention capacity. With an eye toward smarter development, we tightened development standards in the county as much as legally possible, so upstream developments don’t flood downstream neighbors. We’re buying out homes that flood repeatedly and turning them into green space. We created a new framework for post-disaster recovery, so recovery happens first in the areas that are worst hit, not just in those areas with big pockets, or with connections downtown. We are exploring all possible alternatives when it comes to a coastal barrier, and we’ll continue to leverage every local dollar to support flood control.
But we cannot do this alone. We need our federal government to discuss flood mitigation, invest more in long-term mitigation, and, on the most basic level, to acknowledge the reality of climate change and the historic storms we are seeing now. It shouldn’t take a near miss of a catastrophic hurricane to force our national leaders to recognize the urgency of investing in flood infrastructure. Congress should follow our lead in expediting flood projects and they must do everything in their power to fund a coastal barrier for Galveston Bay, now. Time is running out.
Abrazos,
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Lina Hidalgo
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County News

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Releases Harris County Roadmap to Reopen Schools

On August 12, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County Public Health (HCPH) released a plan to advise local school districts on what data thresholds to use when considering reopening schools, and what safety parameters to follow when it is safe to reopen some in-person schooling. This Roadmap to Reopen Schools was developed based on national and international research and with the input of public health experts and school officials. The roadmap is designed to put Harris County schools on track for a realistic, responsible, safe, and sustainable reopening by providing data-based milestones and corresponding recommended actions for school districts. You can see the more general metrics for success we are urging everyone to use here.
“We live in an interconnected community and while our student populations may be limited to certain areas of the county, school teachers, staff and parents live and travel throughout our community,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo. “In-person learning is vital for the educational development and social well-being of children and young adults, but right now it is simply not safe to return to in-person learning. By committing to a common set of rules we can reduce the likelihood of see-sawing between opening and closing, which harms our students and exhausts our community.”
To help guide a safe return to in-person instruction, the roadmap provides a color-coded system similar to the county’s COVID-19 Threat Level System. The code uses the following levels:
  • Red: All schools should be closed to in-person instruction and activities.
  • Orange: School districts following a plan approved by Harris County Public Health may consider in-person instruction and activities for certain priority populations while not exceeding 25% capacity or 500 students, whichever is lower, in buildings or rooms, so long as schools can maintain cohorting practices.
  • Yellow: School districts following a plan approved by Harris County Public Health may consider in-person instruction and activities while not exceeding 50% capacity or 1,000 students, whichever is lower, in buildings or rooms, so long as schools can maintain cohorting practices.
  • Green: School districts following a plan approved by Harris County Public Health may resume in-person instruction at their usual capacity.
The plan also outlines detailed reopening processes for levels orange through green and how HCPH will be available to provide technical assistance to schools for developing, reviewing and approving their plans. To read through the roadmap and learn more about the latest COVID-19 trends visit ReadyHarris.org.
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Harris County Digital Access Program to Provide Families with Computer Devices and Hotspots for Virtual Schooling

Keeping our children home from school is a smart move to protect them from COVID-19, but many Harris County families don’t have the means to get their kids connected virtually and learning online. In Texas, one in four students do not have devices at home for virtual learning, and 34% of these students lack adequate access to the internet. 66% of these students are African-American, Hispanic, or Native American.
To begin to address these substantial inequalities, Harris County Commissioners Court approved the creation of the Digital Access Program in early August. The program designates $32 million in Federal Cares Act dollars to provide 82,000 WiFi hotspots and 211,000 devices to families in need. Harris County will partner with Texas Education Agency’s “Operation Connectivity” and T-Mobile’s “Project 10 Million” for distribution of the devices and hotspots, respectively.
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Harris County Pledges Additional $15 Million for Rental Assistance Program, Direct Aid Program

Housing rights are human rights, and Harris County families do not deserve to be kicked out of their homes because they can’t pay rent due to the consequences of a global pandemic. In August, Harris County and the City of Houston partnered to create the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program to provide our hardest-hit residents with small grants to pay rent. Late last month, Harris County Commissioner’s Court voted to increase their contribution to the fund by $15 million for a total contribution of $40 million. An estimated 21,000 eligible applicants will now receive rent assistance of up to $1900. The Court also approved an additional $15 million for the County’s Direct Aid program, increasing the original $25 million earmarked to help needy residents with grants to cover needs such as food, utilities, and medical expenses to a total of $40M.
As of August 26, 4,663 landlords in Harris County and the City of Houston have applied for assistance from the Rental Assistance Program. The rental assistance application has now closed. Please stay tuned to ReadyHarris.org for more details on how to apply for the Direct Aid Program, once applications become available.
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Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund Disbursement Distributes Funds to Over 20k Households, Close to Completion

The Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund is in the process of distributing its final grants and is close to completion. The $30 million fund opened its application in late June for the most vulnerable residents of Harris County suffering the financial effects of COVID-19. Over the span of two days, the fund hosted 1,898,555 sessions on its website (including visitors who visited the website multiple times), and assisted 24,136 people over the phone. All $30 million has been released to intermediary organizations to distribute to families, and 20,618 households have been served by the fund to date. An estimated 400 to 450 additional families will receive re-granted funds that could not be distributed. A final count of all families served, as well as an evaluation and assessment of the program will be available in October.
Families looking for COVID-19 related assistance are encouraged to call the 211 Texas/United Way helpline to find an organization in their geographic region. Individuals can also visit ReadyHarris.org and www.harriscountyrelief.org/resources for more information and other options for available aid.
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Harris County Approves Historic Investment to Improve Access to Voting Prior to November Election

The upcoming election will be one of the most important in the history of the United States — and it is up to every eligible resident to take part in deciding our nation’s future. In late August, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a historic $17 million investment to expand access to the ballot box for our residents to ensure everyone has the chance to make their voice heard, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. The court approved:
  • tripling the number of Early Vote locations;
  • extending early voting hours until 10pm for 3 days, and 24 hour voting for one;
  • drive-thru voting;
  • and mail-in ballot applications mailed to all registered voters.
No excuses — regardless of who you decide to support, the most important thing you can do is VOTE! For more information on voting in Harris County and to apply for a mail-in ballot, visit the HarrisVotes.com.
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Harris County Commissioners Court Unanimously Vote for Name Change of Road Commemorating Confederate General

Harris County is a place of diversity, inclusion, and acceptance, and to ensure that all feel welcome, we must remove symbols of oppression and hate. Accordingly, Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously on July 14 to officially rename Robert E. Lee Road, in Precinct 1, to Unison Road.
Harris County has replaced road signs, sent letters to residents of newly-renamed Unison Road, and contacted USPS to inform mail carriers of the name change. The County is also taking appropriate measures to inform navigation services, such as Google Maps, of the change.
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White Oak Bayou Federal Project Expected to be Completed in 2021

The White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project, initiated in 1998, has reached a construction milestone. With the first of two remaining construction segments set to begin in Fall 2020, the project is expected to be completed in 2021. Construction on the first 10-mile stretch of White Oak Bayou from Hollister Road upstream to F.M. 1960 includes excavation work to widen and deepen White Oak Bayou. Additional work includes replacing and modifying drainage pipes that direct stormwater into the bayou.
“This extensive project focuses on reducing the risk of flooding along White Oak Bayou – a very real and constant concern for the neighborhoods that have been hard hit by repeated weather events over the years,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “The completion of this 10-mile stretch will help us deliver on the promises we made to voters who approved this investment.”
To learn more about the White Oak Bayou Federal Project, and sign up for email updates, please visit www.hcfcd.org/C14.
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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.
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