The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

Last week, a member of my staff tested positive for COVID-19 and is, thankfully, recovering at home. Other staff members and I now find ourselves in an eerily similar situation to so many across Harris County — folks who are in self-quarantine after a friend, colleague, or family member tests positive for the Coronavirus. Yesterday, I received the results from my test — negative. I will stay in quarantine until 14 days after exposure, which is next Monday. We don’t all know if we ourselves have the virus, but we can’t risk exposing more people to this illness that is filling up our hospitals and has proven fatal for so many.

The national spotlight has moved away from New York as they have collectively recovered and is now hovering over Harris County. The world is watching to see how we as a community will handle this epidemic now that the wave has risen far out of our control. Every one of us plays a role in how this will play out — only collectively can we stop the Coronavirus from spreading. We each have to decide now if we want to ride this wave to still water or get pulled under and caught in the swell.

Though we have to make sacrifices in the short term, let’s play the long game. I desperately want our economy to reopen and recover as quickly as possible. I have always fought for everyone’s ability to support their families, but that cannot happen while our economy is being held hostage by this virus. The choice between our health and the economy is a false dichotomy.

On the contrary, if we truly want to get to the other side, we must be smarter about how and when we reopen. We must not only flatten our hospitalization rate, but also bring the curve down on the other side. We must observe how other communities have gone about reopening successfully and draw lessons from their experiences, reopening in a slow, smart and careful way.

For now, the only way to bring this virus under control and get our health and economy back on track is for everyone to stay home except for essential activities. Our hospitals are already activating their surge capacity and there is no evidence that the hospitalization curve will flatten itself with anything other than a stay home effort. That is why I have put our community COVID-19 Threat Level System at Level 1 (red): Severe and ask everyone to stay home except for essential activities.

It will not be easy, but the more united we are in this effort, the faster we will get through this. Let’s do this sustainably and responsibly, and show the world the smart, tough, and compassionate community Harris County really is.

Abrazos,
Lina Hidalgo

County News

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Orders All Businesses to Develop and Post Health and Safety Policies, Including a Requirement for Face Coverings

 
On June 19, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed an order requiring any business providing goods or services to implement health and safety policies which include, at a minimum, that all employees and customers wear face coverings inside businesses. Face coverings may include homemade masks, scarfs, bandanas, or a handkerchief. The order went into effect on June 22 and has been extended to August 26, 2020.
 
“There’s no magic wand government can wave to make this virus go away, but we can take steps to ensure that we provide our community with the guidance and tools it needs to fight back,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “This isn’t just the right thing to do for our health and safety, it’s also good for business. We owe it to our community to ensure that those who do have to go out can have the confidence in knowing that the businesses they are patronizing are looking out for their customers, workers, and community as a whole.”
 
Businesses that fail to develop, post, and implement a Health and Safety Policy are subject to a $1,000 fine for each violation. For more information on COVID-19 and Harris County’s containment efforts, or to report a violation, visit ReadyHarris.org

 

 

 

Harris County Announces $30 Million Grant Program To Assist Small Businesses Impacted By COVID-19

 
Small businesses around Harris County are struggling to survive this pandemic and, in many cases, our patronage is not enough to help them pull through. Yesterday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and each of the Harris County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a Small Business Recovery Fund (SBRF) program, which will provide $30 million to assist struggling small businesses who have been unable to obtain financial assistance from other COVID-19 relief programs. The program will provide eligible businesses a grant of up to $25,000 to help cover operating expenses. The SBRF is designed to assist the most vulnerable Harris County small- and micro-enterprises impacted by the pandemic. Preference will be given to lower income business owners by reserving 60% of the total grant allocation for business owners who do not exceed 80% of Housing and Urban Development’s Area Median Family Income. The funds will be allocated to businesses with 30 or fewer employees in three size categories as follows:
 
  • 0 – 5 Employees – 60% of total grant funding
  • 6 – 10 Employees – 20% of total grant funding
  • 11 – 30 Employees – 20% of total grant funding  
 
“The impact of this crisis on small businesses has been devastating. We can’t afford to lose a source of jobs, innovation and the enterprising spirit our region is known for,” Judge Hidalgo said. “These grants will help business owners stay afloat as Harris County continues to fight the COVID-19 crisis.”
 
Harris County previously provided $10 million in assistance to approximately 400 small businesses under the small business relief program LEAP in March, and $30 million to Harris County’s most vulnerable families via the COVID-19 Relief Fund in June. 
 
Houston Business Development, Inc., which specializes in administering government funded small business lending programs, will work closely with the county in launching and administering the SBRF program. The SBRF Program will launch July 13, 2020, at 8:00 a.m. and will remain open for ten business days, through July 24, 2020. Stay tuned for more information regarding eligibility requirements and how to apply. Those in need of immediate assistance are encouraged to call 211 Texas/United Way helpline to find an organization in your geographic region that can serve you.

 

 

 

Harris County Approves $18 Million for COVID Homelessness Response Plan

 
Complex challenges like chronic homelessness demand innovative solutions. Yesterday Commissioners Court approved a contribution of $18 million in federal funds for the COVID Community-wide Housing Plan, a groundbreaking response plan for local government and organizations to collaboratively address homelessness in the time of COVID-19. The contribution marks the single largest investment to address homelessness in Harris County history and will help provide housing services for 5,000 people. 
 
The COVID Community-wide Housing Plan builds upon the Coalition for the Homeless’ Housing First model, which was first pioneered in Harris County and has reduced homelessness by 54% since 2011. COVID Community-wide Housing Plan initiatives include:
 
  • Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) – provide assistance and rental subsidies for up to 12 months for approximately 1,700 people newly experiencing homelessness due to COVID-19.
  • Bridge to Permanent Supportive Housing – house approximately 1,000 people experiencing homelessness who are waiting for more permanent housing.
  • Diversion – help residents maintain or regain housing without having to enter a shelter via resources such as family mediation, housing placements, or flexible financial assistance for up to 3 months.
 
Harris County Community Services Department, the Coalition for the Homeless, the City of Houston, and the Harris County Homeless Task Force will partner to administer the program.

 

 

 

Harris County Polls Now Open For Early Voting

 
Harris County is now at its highest threat level for COVID-19. and both Texas Governor Greg Abbott and County Judge Lina Hidalgo are urging Texans to stay home. But while this step to preserve the health of Texans is critical, so is preserving the right of every eligible citizen to vote — especially now when so many are fighting to ensure their voices are heard. 
 
If you missed the deadline to submit your application to vote by mail for the July 14 Primary Election, the next safest way to cast your vote is to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day. The Harris County Clerk’s Office has put a number of new practices in place to ensure the safety of poll workers and voters. Initiatives include sanitizing polling stations, providing personal protection equipment for all poll workers and voters, and ensuring that social distancing protocol is followed. All 57 polling centers will be open during the Early Voting period, Monday, June 29 through Friday, July 10, and on Election Day, Tuesday, July 14th. Visit harrisvotes.com for more information.
 
To vote by mail in future elections, you can request a ballot via the Harris County Clerk’s website here. However you decide to do it, make sure your vote is counted.

 

 

 

Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund Sees Record Number of Applicants in Second Phase of Funding

 
We cannot let the most vulnerable in our society slip through the cracks. To help those among us suffering the most, the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund opened its application for financial aid to the public on June 23 and June 24. The application was available online and over the phone, and was inundated by tens of thousands of Harris County residents seeking assistance from the $30 million fund. 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. $2.9 million has already been disbursed and another $3 million is committed and on its way to families. All funds will be disbursed by July 31. 
 
“The staggering number of applications we received only goes to show the immense magnitude of need across Harris County,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “It is clear that people are hurting, so we’re moving as quickly as possible to get these funds out the door.”
 
Applicants were informed of their application status on Tuesday, June 30. Those who are still looking for assistance are encouraged to call 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.

 

 

 

Texas Application for Student Food Benefits Open Through July 31

 
Because of school closures from COVID-19, the State of Texas has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide more than $1 billion in pandemic food benefits to families with children that have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals.
 
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) provides eligible families with a one-time payment for each child who previously received free or reduced-price meals. P-EBT works the same way as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and will help families get the food they need during the current pandemic. P-EBT will be administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas Education Agency. The application for P-EBT will be open until July 31, 2020.
 
To learn about eligibility and how to apply, visit the Texas Health and Human Services website 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.