The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
I wish we could say that, because of the COVID crisis, we all get a break from worrying about the potential of a catastrophic storm making landfall this year. Unfortunately, the truth is that hurricane season doesn’t give us the courtesy of waiting until the COVID-19 crisis subsides, so the time to be ready is now.
We want you to know that even with the enormous amount of work we have been doing to contain the Coronavirus in Harris County, we have also been hard at work behind the scenes preparing for this hurricane season, which begins this week. We’ve achieved a lot of progress over the past year, moving full speed ahead on flood mitigation projects, tightening development and detention standards and working with first responder teams from across the region to prepare for and plan for the worst.
But ultimately, preparing for hurricanes is a partnership among all of us. Including you. Here are three actions we urge you to take today to prepare:
Do an insurance checkup. Did you know that just 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 in damage to your home? Standard home insurance policies don’t cover flooding, so now is the time to check in with your insurance company and make sure you are covered. Keep in mind that new flood insurance policies take 30 days to take effect, so don’t wait.
Build a kit. Many of the items you need for a Hurricane Kit you already have at home, such as non-perishable food, batteries, and a radio. Make sure you have a plan to have any medications you need on hand and a plan and supplies for your pets too. Please see our disaster checklist of supplies on ReadyHarris.org.
Know your zone. Now is the time to find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone, and if you do, plan where you would go and how you would get there. If you need to evacuate, do you know where you would go? A friend or a relative’s house, for example? We have evacuation routes and zones on a map right now on ReadyHarris.org.
We all know the sort of damage and loss of human life that a big storm can bring, but it doesn’t have to catch us unaware. Please join us in taking the time to prepare for whatever may come this hurricane season.
Justice for George Floyd
Over the past week, Harris County Judge Hidalgo and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have remained in close touch with Mayor Turner and the City of Houston regarding protests in Houston. Judge Hidalgo continues to urge peace and safety over violence, as well as meaningful reform to our criminal justice system as a way of honoring Floyd’s life.
“Each and every member of our community, regardless of their race, background, or economic status deserves to be treated with dignity and respect during encounters with police. When we lost George Floyd we lost a fellow Houstonian and someone whose legacy will forever remind us of the work that remains to build a more just, equal society for the most vulnerable among us,” said Hidalgo.
“As we move forward, I want George Floyd’s friends and family here in Harris County to know that his life – and the life of so many others we’ve lost to injustice – will drive us to work ever more zealously to create a more equitable, fairer Harris County. As County Judge, I will continue to do everything in my power to drive forward meaningful criminal justice reform, hold all our institutions – including law enforcement – accountable, and work to dismantle the root sources of racism and inequity in our community. The work is long and hard but we will continue to drive forward alongside the community and with more resolve than ever.”
Judge Hidalgo also reminds folks that the threat of COVID-19 continues in our community, and close contact with others can be potentially deadly and lead to an outbreak. “I urge those who join in demanding change to wear a face covering, practice social distancing, and mitigate potential exposure as much as possible or by participating virtually.”
Harris County $30 Million COVID-19 Relief Fund To Support Most Vulnerable Residents
Last month, Harris County Commissioner’s Court passed a measure to establish the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to Harris County residents most impacted by the global pandemic. The $30 million fund, which will be administered by Greater Houston Community Foundation, will serve a significant number of the most vulnerable people, in particular county residents who may not be eligible for other COVID-related funding and/or who cannot afford to wait for assistance. The Fund is expected to assist about 20,000 households to provide support with housing, electricity, food, childcare, and other essential needs.
“Harris County on its own can’t unilaterally turn around the economic fallout from COVID-19, but we are committed to running the most impactful, targeted program to support the hardest-hit families in our community,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “If we want the entire community to get through this, it means helping the most vulnerable among us.”
The Fund will be open to Harris County low-income residents, including those excluded by the CARES Act or immigrant households, adults listed as dependents, and people who may receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but cannot afford to wait for months. Funds will be disbursed via community organizations who will identify and work with eligible individuals and families, and by inviting all eligible low-income residents to complete an application through a multilingual call center and/or website. The application process will become available in the next few weeks, and there will be a press effort to inform the community. Individuals will have ample time to apply. Given the incredible need, a fair, randomized process will be used to select eligible households to receive financial assistance. It will not be first come, first served. For detailed information, visit harriscountyrelief.org. Those in need of immediate assistance are encouraged to call the 211 Texas/United Way helpline to find an organization in your geographic region that can provide assistance.
COVID-19 Veteran Financial Assistance Available
The COVID-19 crisis has brought an astonishing effect to our country’s economy, and so quickly that many of us were caught off guard and unprepared. Harris County Veteran Services Department, in conjunction with the Texas Veterans Commission, has received limited funding to provide short-term financial assistance for impacted veterans and their families. This program will prioritize the most vulnerable and underserved in our communities; funding is limited, so apply now.
To qualify, veterans must reside in Harris County and provide proof of job loss or reduced income. Documentation required includes the applicant’s identification, DD214, financial disclosure, vacate/eviction notice, utility bills indicating expense, and other documents as required. This funding does not include mortgage assistance. If a Veteran does not qualify for this specific program, the Department may provide referrals to other programs. To begin the application process, contact the Harris County Veteran Services Department at (281) 876-6600.
Hundreds of Projects Designed to Spare Thousands of Homes from Flooding Continue Make Progress through COVID-19
Throughout this difficult time, Harris County has never stopped preparing for the 2020 Hurricane Season, which begins today. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and Stay Home-Work Safe order, the Harris County Flood Control District has continued its work to complete engineering and planning projects arising from the $2.5 billion Bond Program. Notably, the Fairbanks-North Houston Stormwater detention basin, which adds 75 million gallons in stormwater capacity and increases the basin’s total capacity to 1.9 billion gallons, was completed last month. Since January, Harris County has awarded over $136 million in flood damage reduction projects and is on track to bid out over $500 million in construction this year.
“COVID-19 put the brakes on many aspects of life in Harris County, but it hasn’t slowed our flood control projects,” Judge Hidalgo said at the construction site. “This is a superhuman effort focused on major improvements, across all precincts, designed to spare homes from flooding.”
Virtual meetings and electronic document-sharing have enabled projects to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-bid meetings are conducted via teleconference and bids are live-streamed on the Harris County website. For more detailed information on current projects, visit the Harris County Flood Control District webpage here. To learn more on how to prepare for the 2020 Hurricane Season, visit ReadyHarris.org.
Harris County Judge Announces Worker Protection Guidelines for Businesses, Manufacturing & Construction Reopening during Pandemic
On May 21, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced worker protection guidelines for retail businesses and manufacturing and construction sites as they reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The recommended guidelines intend to provide baseline safeguards to ensure employees and customers are protected as facilities open for business and construction activity increases.
“It’s not enough to call essential workers our heroes – we need to show our appreciation by protecting them and creating an environment that supports safe and sustainable economic activity,” Judge Hidalgo said. “These guidelines serve as a bridge from policy to practice, creating a baseline expectation of safety whether you’re a construction worker stepping onto a job site, a custodian at a small business, or a senior citizen going to buy groceries.”
Some of the minimum health protocols for both retail businesses and the construction workforce include the following:
Employers should be flexible with hours and use staggered shifts to reduce the number of employees arriving and leaving at the same time
Workers and contractors should be screened for symptoms before entering the building or job site, and any worker or contractor with a temperature above 100F should be sent home, with the employer notifying the health department and informing all workers who may have been in contact with the individual
Workers should wear face coverings
The full lists of steps retail and construction businesses should take are available here and here. Free COVID-19 testing is available for everyone, and workers are encouraged to complete an updated online self-assessment tool on ReadyHarris.org. Workers who do not have access to the online self-assessment tool can call 832-927-7575 to be scheduled for testing.
Harris County to Open Free COVID-19 Testing Sites in Pasadena and Cy-Fair
Last week, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Harris County Department of Public Health announced the county’s two largest COVID-19 test sites will be moved to new locations. The testing sites will move to Pasadena and Cy-Fair from Baytown and Katy and will begin services tomorrow, June 2nd. Smaller mobile sites will continue to visit the Baytown and Katy area periodically.
Harris County operates a total of six testing sites throughout the county with the capacity to test up to 1,700 residents each day. The two new sites opening next month will be able to conduct 750 tests per day each, up from 500. To date, Harris County has offered testing at 29 locations across the county.
Harris County Public Health encourages any residents who believe they have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the virus to get tested. To receive free testing, residents should use the self-assessment tool available at ReadyHarris.org or by calling 832-927-7575.
County Judge’s Office to Host Eight Virtual Conversations on Early Childhood in Harris County
This June, the Harris County Judge’s Office is hosting a series of virtual conversations for families and caregivers to share their stories, hopes, and pressing needs around raising children ages zero to three that will support future early childhood policy development in Harris County. The 45 minute sessions are offered in Vietnamese, Arabic, and Spanish, as well as in English, with two sessions for fathers only. Each session is limited to five caregivers. If you are a parent or caregiver residing in Harris County and would like to attend, you can sign-up here. For more about Harris County’s Early Childhood Efforts, please visit HarrisCountyKids.com.
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.