The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
Right now in Harris County we are dealing with a crisis that is as dangerous as any we’ve had since the start of this pandemic. The Delta variant is spreading like wildfire across our county. It is straining our hospital systems, hospitalizing a record number of children, including those without underlying conditions, and disproportionately harming our unvaccinated population. The consequences of this emergency are all the more tragic when we know that there is a vaccine that is safe, free, effective, and available at a moment’s notice. Harris County residents are suffering and dying. They don’t have to be.
We are working tirelessly and doing everything we can to put vaccines in people’s arms. We’re going into communities and knocking on doors to reach people where they are. We’re taking walk-ins at all of our sites to make the vaccine as accessible as possible. We are raffling scholarships to students under 18 that get their vaccine. Yesterday, we took the next step to encourage our community to protect themselves and those around them — from now until August 31st, anyone who gets their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from a Harris County Public Health site will receive $100, no strings attached.
Here’s how to do it. Go to readyharris.org or call 832-927-8787 to find the Harris County Public Health site nearest to you. You can see which vaccines are being offered at which sites and choose between Pfizer (ages 12 and up), Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson. To receive the $100, all you have to do is come to one of our vaccination sites for your first dose before the offer ends on August 31st. You can pre-register right now at ReadyHarris.org or walk up to any Harris County Public Health vaccination site. Folks who don’t have a car and need a ride can get transportation by calling our vaccine hotline at 832-927-8787.
We could end this surge in two to four weeks if we just close the gap on the number of people vaccinated in Harris County. We can do this. Let’s roll up our sleeves.
Harris County Commissioner’s Court Approves Evidence-Based Three-Part Strategy to Reduce Crime
Every year, 39,000 Americans die from gun violence — an average of 100 per day. Here in Harris County we are far from immune to this rampant violence — in 2020, murder was up by 40%, mostly due to gun violence. While the situation is critical, we are using every tool we have to fight rising crime rates in a sustainable, impactful way that will yield results for years to come. On August 9th, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced an evidence-based three-part strategy to reduce crime across Harris County. The plan consists of the following three initiatives:
First, reducing the dangerous backlog in our criminal court system. Justice delayed is justice denied, which is why we’ve approved:
$17 million to support additional equipment for law enforcement agencies to help with evidence gathering and processing, allowing cases to proceed much faster, and additional overtime to help staff get through cases;
an emergency docket initiative to hire more judges (read more below);
funding for an associate judges program;
expanded jury operations at NRG.
Second, protecting public safety by being smart on crime, not just tough on crime. To reduce crime we have to address the root causes of crime which are often directly related to health and social challenges like mental illness and substance use disorders. In order to do this, Harris County Commissioners Court is designating $5 million to create Holistic Assistance Response Teams to help free up law enforcement from having to deal with nonviolent calls involving mental illness, substance use, homelessness, and social welfare. The Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART) will work with community organizations to help staff these teams with trained behavioral health and mental health responders.
And third, addressing gun violence in our community directly and stopping violence before it happens. Harris County’s innovative $6 million Gun Violence Interruption Program will:
First, connect with people at risk. The program will identify individuals and locations that are highest impacted by violence, including hospital patients who are victims of serious violent injuries.
Second, get at the root causes. Once the most impacted individuals and areas have been identified, caseworkers from a variety of disciplines will help individuals with services like mental health counseling, substance use treatment, employment, and support exiting gangs.
Third, enlist community leaders to help us fight back at the neighborhood level and stop violence before it happens. Workers will identify ongoing conflicts by talking to key people in the community about disputes, recent arrests or prison releases, and other situations and use mediation techniques to resolve them peacefully.
Stay tuned for more information on these new initiatives.
New Harris County Small Business Fund to Provide $30 Million in Grants for Struggling Small Businesses
Running a small business is a huge challenge, even in the best of times. And despite the dangers presented to small business workers during over the past 17 months, many stayed open and continued to serve Harris County residents. Unfortunately, small businesses are now struggling — their revenue in our county is down 38 percent since last January according to a study from Harvard University. Now is the time to support our small businesses the way they have supported us.
This month Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court designated $30 million in American Rescue Plan federal funds to create the Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund. The Fund will provide $5,000 to $25,000 grants to up to 2,000 micro and small businesses. Through these grants, small businesses will be able to pay workers, pay suppliers, pay their rent or mortgages, and more.
The County will launch the Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund website on August 20th including information on how to apply in English, Spanish, and in Vietnamese. There will be an open application period starting on Monday, September 20 and ending Monday, October 4. Applicants will be selected on a randomized basis, with priority given to businesses and business owners in vulnerable areas, minority and women-owned businesses, and other designated priority categories. Additional updates will be provided in the coming weeks.
Harris County Passes Emergency Docket Funding for Additional Judges to Reduce Backlog of Serious Criminal Cases
Currently, around 100,000 criminal court cases are pending in Harris County, including more than 20,000 cases that are more than a year old. Backlogs have risen throughout the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ours is exacerbated by the fact that it had grown already after damages to our courthouses during Hurricane Harvey. Resolving this alarming backlog in our justice system is crucial to effectively combat rising crime rates in Harris County. In July, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved $2.5 million to fund three visiting judges and necessary support staff who will work to prioritize adjudication of the most serious criminal cases still pending in county Criminal District Courts.
The addition of three visiting judges will build on previous actions already taken by Harris County, including over $17 million dollars for additional law enforcement and associate judges and an expansion of jury operations. Previous actions Harris County has taken to address violent crime include supporting additional overtime funding for detectives in the Harris County Sheriff Office’s Violent Crimes, Adult Special Crimes, and Child Abuse Units to work cases with the most violent crimes through targeted investigations that focus on repeat offenders and organized criminal activity in known hotspots, improved information sharing, expedited investigations, and supporting the state legislature to add an additional criminal district court in Harris County.
Harris County Makes 3.2 Million Investment To Continue Providing Free Public Wifi
The importance of a wifi signal has never been more evident than in the past year and a half — working from home and attending virtual classes is stressful enough without having to worry about the cost and quality of your connection. For everyone to have a fair shot at success, everyone must have access to the internet. In July, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved $3.2 million in CARES funding to continue providing broadband support to an estimated 20,000 families through the 2021-2022 school year at community centers, parks, libraries, and on community buses, and expand service to between between 5,000 and 9,000 users.
In December 2020, Harris County established a new Broadband Office tasked with developing a long-term broadband strategy and overseeing efforts to improve access, affordability, and innovation related to digital connectivity long term. Earlier that year, the County pledged a total of $42 million to the County’s Digital Access Program for the purchase of devices and hotspots for Harris County children attending school virtually during the COVID-19 epidemic.
New Office of Sustainability to Oversee Harris County’s Environmental Practices and Policies
An important piece in fighting climate change and subsequent extreme weather is ensuring that as a community we are doing everything we can to lower our carbon footprint, every day. Now Harris County has an office to establish, promote, and oversee green policies in all of the County’s work. In July, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved the creation of an Office of Sustainability (OS) within the Office of County Administration. The OS will “combat the underlying causes and disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities by making community-driven improvements to air, water, and soil quality, committing to the use of clean energy, improving flood resilience with natural infrastructure practices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and providing every resident access to quality green space.”
The Office of Sustainability will be responsible for a number of tasks, including:
Creating a Climate Justice & Action Plan (CJAP) in coordination with County departments which will involve a variety of initiatives such as defining climate justice, sustainability, and resilience goals, constructing a community engagement plan that focuses on affected and historically marginalized communities, and setting an implementation strategy and timeline.
Planning initiatives with departments to integrate practices such as: green purchasing, recycling, smart technology integration, energy and water efficiency, and more.
Performing highly complex forecasting, including equity, impact, and costs analysis to allow Commissioners Court and the Budget Management Department to make informed decisions.
Creating a public-facing website publishing the CJAP and ongoing initiatives and progress.
Look out for more updates on this critical new office!
Learn More About How Proposed Texas Voter Bills Would Affect Voting in Harris County
Lawmakers have resorted to some desperate measures over the past month to keep the Texas legislature from voting and potentially passing new Texas Voter Bills. So what is in these bills and how would they affect you? Watch Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo break down how these bills threaten voting rights.
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.
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.