Throughout my time as Harris County Judge, I have relied on data and evidence to make the most equitable, efficient, and impactful decisions possible to improve county government. This experience has shown me just how important accurate data collection is for building up communities and ensuring inclusive governance.
This month, invitations to respond to the 2020 Census, the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the United States, will go out to every home in Harris County. The data collected by the Census is critical to the growth and governance of Harris County over the next 10 years. The count will determine Congressional representation and provide data for more accurate redistricting. Businesses use census data to decide where to build new homes, factories, offices, and stores, which all create jobs. Local governments like ours use the census to plan for public safety and emergency preparedness. Counting all children who live and sleep in your home most of the time, including newborn babies, is vital for gaining funds for future schools and social programs. In short, billions of dollars to fund important projects in our region are on the line — from the way flood relief is allocated to essential programs like SNAP and Head Start.
Completing the census is more convenient than ever. You will have the option of responding by mail, by phone, or, for the first time, online. Households that don’t respond in one of these ways will be visited by a census taker to collect the information in person. Regardless of how you respond, your personal information is protected by federal law. Your answers can only be used to produce statistics. By law, the Census cannot share your information with immigration enforcement agencies or law enforcement agencies, or allow it to be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits. Your Census responses cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way.
Completing the 2020 Census is easy, safe, and vital for prepared, representative governance and strong, thriving communities. You can find more information on how to complete the 2020 Census at 2020census.gov. Thank you for doing your part by being counted.
Free Tow and Go Program Expands Across Harris County
We’ve all seen it: abandoned and stalled cars on the freeway blocking lanes or shoulders, causing traffic congestion and even more accidents. Enter the Tow and Go program. Approved by Harris County Commissioners Court and funded by a Houston-Galveston Area Council grant, Tow and Go tows vehicles stalled on freeways due to engine failures and flat tires to up to a mile away at no cost to the owner.
Under a new agreement approved by Harris County Commissioners Court last month, the program, including five Deputy positions with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, will be funded through January 2021 and expand coverage from 175 miles to 245 miles through most of Harris County. Since the Tow and Go program began in 2018, 51,000 stalled cars have been towed and the average incident clearance time has decreased from 30 to 16 minutes. For more information on the Tow and Go Program, visit towandgo.com.
New County Immigrant Legal Services Program to Provide Families Facing Immigration-Related Challenges with Legal Representation and Support
On February 25th, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a plan to design, fund, and oversee a legal services program for county residents in need of immigration-related legal support. The Harris County Immigrant Legal Services Program will help level the playing field for immigrant families who cannot afford a lawyer by providing them with representation and legal services to ensure they are better prepared to navigate U.S. law. Too many people, even young children, with valid claims to stay in this country are deported simply because they don’t have a lawyer to present their case. This program will help immigrants avoid deportation when they are lawfully allowed to stay in this country.
“This new program will give a voice to those who are often left behind as victims of our broken immigration system because, without a lawyer, they are unable to adequately defend themselves in court against trained government attorneys,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Harris County benefits tremendously from the diversity, energy, and entrepreneurship that immigrants provide. If we’re serious about being a county that puts families first, we can start by ensuring they’re not torn apart by a daunting, broken, and unfair federal immigration system.”
Over 25% of Harris County residents are foreign born, including an estimated 412,000 undocumented residents who account for nearly 10% of the county’s labor force, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Undocumented immigrant households in Houston earned $11 billion in total income in 2016, paying $742 million in federal taxes and $448 million in state and local taxes. 18% of children have at least one undocumented parent, and the stresses of having a parent torn away have psychosocial and economic repercussions throughout our community. 72% of detained cases in the court that hears cases for several large detention centers near Harris County lack legal representation.
Second Early Childhood Community Conversation Scheduled for March 18
If you could change one thing to make the biggest impact for your family, or Harris County families in general, what would you change? This was one of three questions posed to parents, early childhood professionals, and community organization representatives who attended the first Early Childhood Community Conversation, co-hosted by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis. The February 15th event was the first in a series of five community conversations designed to pinpoint the most urgently required assistance for Harris County families to better provide for their young children’s development. This community engagement effort is the first phase of Judge Hidalgo’s new effort to explore what is possible when it comes to enhancing early childhood development resources for Harris County families.
We hope you will join us for one of our upcoming Community Conversations. Our second event will be held on March 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Baytown Community Center at 2407 Market Street, Baytown, TX 77520. Each session will build on the previous discussions, covering different aspects of early childhood development in Harris County. Both previous and new attendees are encouraged to attend. Food and childcare will be provided, and Spanish interpretation will be available. You can RSVP here. Additionally, please save the date for our third conversation which will take place on April 22 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Baker Ripley Gulfton Sharpstown Campus.
For more information, please visit HarrisCountyKids.com, where you can view upcoming Early Childhood Community Conversations, complete a short survey, and add your thoughts and ideas online if you miss an event. To view a video recap of the February 15 Early Childhood Conversation, click here. If you’d like to volunteer at an Early Childhood Community Conversation, please complete this form to sign up to be added to our volunteer list.
Help Stop Coronavirus Rumors
Currently there are no confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV (commonly known as Coronavirus) in Harris County, and the threat to Harris County residents remains low. Harris County Public Health is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas Department of State and Health Services, and other health partners in monitoring the developing outbreak and will promptly report any confirmed cases in our jurisdiction. You can view a livestream with the latest updates from Harris County on the Coronavirus here. Still, there are many unsubstantiated rumors causing unneeded anxiety and harm to local businesses.
A new rumor control webpage, available now on ReadyHarris.org, serves as a one-stop shop to help navigate myths and facts regarding the Coronavirus. The webpage, developed in conjunction with Harris County Public Health (HCPH), is being updated regularly to confirm or deny the veracity of information regarding the virus and to direct residents to trusted sources for public health and safety information.
“Residents should know that we are working closely with federal, state, and local officials to monitor Coronavirus,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Executive Director and local health authority for Harris County Public Health. “Our priority is to protect the health and well-being of the entire community. Though Coronavirus is in the news, we encourage residents to continue taking common-sense steps to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu by covering their cough, contacting your healthcare provider or staying home if you are sick, and washing your hands.”
For more information, visit www.ReadyHarris.org.
Pollution Control Services to Significantly Increase Inspections of Concrete Batch Plants
In early February, Harris County Pollution Control Services (PCS) notified members of Harris County Commissioners Court that the department will increase inspections of concrete batch plants to one per week for both air quality and stormwater quality. Until now, the County only conducted inspections in unincorporated Harris County and deferred to the City of Houston to conduct inspections within city limits. Moving forward, PCS will also inspect concrete batch plants within City limits, completing significantly more inspections than in the past. Increasing the number and frequency of inspections will better equip the County to hold plants accountable and identify instances of noncompliance with permits that might otherwise go unnoticed. For more information on Harris County Pollution Control Services, visit their webpage here.
Upcoming Early Childhood Community Conversations
One of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s top priorities for 2020 is early childhood development, which research has repeatedly shown to have one of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program. The County Judge’s Office is in the early stages of planning this new effort, and would like to build Harris County’s vision alongside the families, practitioners, and other stakeholders who think about early childhood development in Harris County every day.
Our second listening session will be held on March 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Baytown Community Center at 2407 Market Street, Baytown, TX 77520. Each session will build on the previous discussions, covering different aspects of early childhood development in Harris County. Both previous and new attendees are encouraged to attend. Food and childcare will be provided, and Spanish interpretation will be available. You can RSVP here. Additionally, please save the date for our third conversation which will take place on April 22 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Baker Ripley Gulfton Sharpstown Campus.
Community Meeting on the Project Brays Reconstruction of the Lawndale St. and Telephone Rd. Bridges
As part of Project Brays, the reconstruction of the Lawndale St. and Telephone Rd. Bridges over Brays Bayou is expected to commence in Spring 2020. The Flood Control District is hosting a public meeting to provide information on this upcoming project on March 3, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Forest Park Lawndale Funeral Home (6900 Lawndale Street Houston, TX 77023). Project Brays, an approximately $530 million federal project, is a cooperative effort between the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project includes widening 21 miles of Brays Bayou from the Houston Ship Channel to Fondren Road and from Old Westheimer Road to State Highway 6, excavating four stormwater detention basins and replacing or modifying 32 bridges.
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 or attending Commissioners Court meetings. The meetings are held at 1001 Preston Street, Suite 934, Houston, TX 77002. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, or watch the official close captioned livestream here.
Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings
Though Hurricane season does not begin until June, 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 meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here.