The County Connection

Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

November 2021
So many Harris County residents who have gotten vaccinated still have feelings of anxiety about COVID, and it’s understandable. Children under the age of 12 have been ineligible to receive the vaccine and remained unprotected from this pandemic that has taken so many lives. This week finally marks the end of the wait — the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have approved the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, an essential piece of our response to COVID-19 that is long overdue.
And, though many parents are eager to get their children vaccinated, others may still be hesitant. Parents should know that the vaccine is safe — the side effects adults have experienced, like a short-lived fever and cold-like symptoms, are less likely to affect kids. It’s also effective — it has a 90% effectiveness rate in preventing children ages 5 through 11 from contracting COVID-19. Although younger children are less likely to be hospitalized or lose their lives from the virus, they can still suffer from various long-term effects of COVID-19. If you want to protect your kids from getting sick from COVID-19, there is no reason to delay signing up for this vaccine.
So, let’s celebrate all of our hard work to get Harris County vaccinated and last week’s downgrade in Harris County’s threat level to Level 2: Orange by getting all eligible Harris County children vaccinated. To sign up, check first if your pediatrician is offering appointments. If not, you can check with your local pharmacy or sign up for an appointment through Harris County Public Health by calling 832-927-8787 or registering at
This is a huge leap in our fight to return to normalcy — let’s give our children the protection they deserve and the chance for a childhood where they can go to school without masks, hug their friends, share their toys, and see their teachers and friends’ smiling faces, without worries about the virus.
Lina Hidalgo

County News

New “Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities” Initiative to Promote Mental Health in Vulnerable Communities

Economic hardship, the sacrifice of missing treasured events, social distancing from people we love, working and attending school from home, navigating conflicting guidance and mistruths — the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us hard. And the deep and long-lasting impact of these hardships is becoming much more evident — according to the CDC, the pandemic has been associated with an increase in mental health conditions, including higher rates of substance use and thoughts of suicide. Four in ten Americans report a mental health disorder associated with COVID. Making matters worse, young people, African-American and Hispanic communities, women, and low-income families are particularly impacted.
Even though we talk about mental health, many still don’t seek the care they need. Now, as the mental health crisis stemming from COVID-19 comes into sharp focus, we have a unique chance to step in and intervene with those who are suffering from anxiety, depression and even thoughts of suicide and offer the help they many not know how to ask for. In October, Commissioners Court approved a new initiative to help communities who don’t typically seek mental health care to know what their options are and to feel comfortable asking for the help they need. Led by the Harris Center, the Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities initiative will engage and collaborate with local leaders in ten targeted areas selected based predominantly on incidence of suicide but also on median income and how underserved the community is for mental health resources. Together, the Harris Center and those communities will determine which specific evidence-based interventions will be most effective and beneficial given their community’s specific circumstances. The initiative will also provide skill development, training, and outreach on how to recognize warning signs, carry out interventions, and make connections with mental health professionals.
Those that are suffering from mental health issues should know they are not alone. If you or someone you know is not well, help is available. To reach the Harris Center 24-hour Crisis Line, which is open 7 days a week, call 713-970-7000 and press 1. Our community must lift the stigma surrounding mental health and treat mental illness as we would diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. It’s just as serious, and just as treatable.

Harris County Approves Funding for Child Tax Credit Outreach

According to the US Census, 1 in 5 children in Harris county live in poverty and almost half of those live with a family income below half of the poverty line. The pandemic has only served to exacerbate this hardship for families with children.
The good news is our government is ready to help with heightened child tax credits (CTC). The standard child tax credit is cash families receive back from their taxes for every child they have and is claimed yearly when taxes are filed. Thanks to the Biden Administration and our Congressional Delegation’s work through the American Rescue Plan, this tax year it has been increased from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 5 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. Families who have filed their 2019 or 2020 taxes are already receiving the first half of the tax credit, and will receive the second half when they file their 2021 taxes next spring. Unfortunately, according to IRS estimates there are at least 30,000 Harris County children living in non-filer households who are at risk of missing out on these expanded CTC payments, which would mean a loss of up to $90 million in aid for families in need this year. That’s assistance that could flow into our local economy, small businesses, and jobs.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo wants to ensure every family is aware of how they can receive this credit. Last month, the Judge and Commissioners Court approved a new partnership with BakerRipley and $500,000 to allow them to hire more staff, expand operating hours, and conduct vital outreach to communities with the most need and ensure they claim this benefit on their taxes. They’ll conduct tax assistance clinics, provide in-person and phone consultations, and carry out vital marketing in multiple languages about services they provide to help families sign up. Outreach and in-person filing assistance will also be made available at specific areas like clinics, libraries, food banks, and places of worship.
If you have not yet claimed your child tax credit, or need help navigating the process, the time to act is now. Undocumented parents of citizen children with social security numbers can receive the credit. Parents without papers can file using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which will not impact eligibility for immigration status, nor trigger immigration enforcement. The program will run until April 15, 2022, the end of tax season. For information on Baker Ripley’s tax preparation services, visit or call 713-273-3744.

Harris County Approves Model Policy to Help Immigrant Victims of Crime Apply for U Visa

All our residents deserve justice when becoming victims of terrible crimes, and this basic human right extends to Harris County’s undocumented immigrants. The U visa program, created in 2000, encourages immigrant survivors of crimes such as domestic violence, felonious assault, trafficking, and sexual exploitation to collaborate with law enforcement by protecting them from deportation. This collaboration is critical to law enforcement’s ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute serious criminal activity. Qualifying applicants receive a U visa for up to four years while participating in legal proceedings, and can apply for lawful permanent residency in the United States after the third year.
Unfortunately, the process for applying for a U visa is complex and difficult, which often discourages immigrants from going this route. To further complicate matters, there is no unified Harris County certification process for U visa certifiers, and, as a result, the Harris County District Attorney, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and the eight Constables Precincts have different U visa certification practices. This lack of a uniform, straightforward process to navigate the U visa program hinders efforts to prosecute criminals and ensure justice for victims.
Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court unanimously adopted a model policy that law enforcement agencies can opt to use to streamline the application process for a U visa. The U visa model policy incorporates best practices currently being used by various departments in the County and will help make the certification process more consistent and easier to navigate for agencies and survivors, and would help set a standard for other jurisdictions to follow.
“It should come as a surprise to no one that many undocumented residents who live in Harris County live in the shadows, and that makes them unlikely to report incidents of crime,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo. “The U.S. is in desperate need of comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and smart, but in the meantime, we must do what we can to help ensure no victim of crime in our community is afraid to speak up and seek redress, irrespective of immigration status.”
The model policy includes recommendations such as eliminating a time limit on completing the visa application process, assigning a U visa Certifier in each department, providing contact information for that person on departmental websites and Victim Services information, making the information accessible to non-English-proficient individuals and/or those with disabilities, and collecting data on U visa requests and approvals to understand better how many U visa requests occur within Harris County. The Harris County Justice Administration Department plans to work with law enforcement agencies and others who choose to adopt the model policy, and will continue to partner with victim service providers to conduct education about the importance of U visa and certification policies.

Harris County Commissioners Court Approves Redistricting Proposal for New Commissioner Precinct Lines

Based on the new census data released earlier this year, Harris County is required to redraw its commissioner precinct maps to reflect changes in population and comply with the “one person, one vote” principle. As one of the fastest growing communities in America, redistricting is important because it ensures that each elected precinct commissioner represents a roughly equal number of residents as populations shift over time.
The County undergoes this process every ten years and it is important to know what redistricting does and does not do. This redistricting process will ensure that every resident in our community has fair and equal representation in our county government. Redistricting will not cause any interruption of road and bridge maintenance. Your access to parks, community centers, libraries and other county facilities is not affected by which precinct you live in. Ambulance and police services likewise are not impacted by any changes to commissioner precinct redistricting. Additionally, any changes to precinct boundaries will be accompanied by proper and timely planning across Harris County government to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.
Over the past several months, Harris County has hosted over eight public meetings on redistricting throughout the county, including allowing the public to present their own maps and comments to inform the process. Following this process, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court considered and approved a new district/precinct plan on October 28th. This adopted map and the current map can be viewed here.

3,480 Students Served Over the Summer Via County Connections Initiative

Children should never stop learning, even over the summer and during a pandemic. In March 2021, Commissioners Court approved $712,250 from the COVID Response and Recovery Fund to fund the County Connections Youth Summer Initiative under the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE). County Connections used this funding to support nonprofit organizations that provide comprehensive summer programs, short term projects, and summer camps hosted in-person or virtually from a variety of locations including schools, community centers, apartment complexes and churches. In total, 43 organizations received funding to serve 3,480 students at 99 sites across the County. Grants were awarded to several local nonprofits, including FORGE for Families, SHAPE Community Center, the Art League of Houston, and the Houston Tennis Association, and were used to provide program content and materials to youth as well as 54 full or partial scholarships to help families pay for summer services. For more information visit the Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment here.

Harris County Approves Resolution in Support of Proposed CROWN Act

Laws to regulate and control natural hairstyles traditionally worn by people of African descent such as afros, braids, locs, and twists have existed since slavery. The Tignon Law passed in 1786 forced Black women to wear a scarf to identify them as part of the slave class. Students in certain Texas public schools have faced discrimination, been suspended, or forced to cut their natural hair due to hair discrimination. Natural hair discrimination has increased racial inequity leading to disparate hiring or treatment in workplace and educational settings.
Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved a resolution in support of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act at the State and Federal levels. Crown aims to help eliminate discrimination based on hair texture and styles. Although iterations of CROWN legislation have not been successfully passed by the Texas Legislature nor in Congress, this year the U.S. Armed Forces rescinded all hair-related policies in recognition that such policies perpetuated derogatory racial stereotypes. Harris County will work to align its personnel policies with the CROWN Act to ensure that we have a respectful and open workplace for natural hair. The Court encourages workplaces in our region to also review their policies and practices to eliminate hair discrimination.

Harris County Requests State Consider Creating Additional Criminal Courts to Assist in Case Backlog

Harris County is currently suffering from a case backlog in our criminal justice system caused by two disasters, Hurricane Harvey, and the pandemic. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved a resolution to request that the Governor add to the special session call a request that Harris County add up to two additional criminal district courts, or to any future special session of the 87th Legislature until such legislation passes. To help reduce the backlog of criminal cases, Harris County has previously added three additional criminal courts, six additional associate judges, and expanded jury operations, among other efforts.

Upcoming Events

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.