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Harris County Guaranteed Income Program Blocked by Texas Supreme Court

Harris County Guaranteed Income Program Blocked by Texas Supreme Court

Austin, TX: The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the Harris County Guaranteed Income Program. The program is called “Uplift Harris” and Attorney General Ken Paxton requested an administrative stay to stop the pilot program on Tuesday, which the Texas Supreme Court granted.

In a lawsuit Paxton filed to block it from taking effect, the 165th District Court and 14th Court of Appeals denied his request for a temporary injunction and sided with Harris County.

By Feb. 2, almost 82,000 Harris County residents had applied to the program. April 24 was the first payment date for selected participants.

In June 2023, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the program’s creation utilizing $20.5 million in COVID-19 relief money from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The federal government limited the monies to COVID-19-related initiatives, but the Democratic-controlled Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the program.

The idea called for a lottery to select 1,928 Harris County people who lived at 200% below the poverty line in the county’s worst 10 zip codes. Selected candidates would get $500 monthly cash payouts for 18 months with “no strings attached.”

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, asked Paxton for a formal opinion on the program’s unconstitutionality in January. According to Article III of the Texas Constitution, the legislature “shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town, or other political subdivision of the state to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual.” He also asked the AG to evaluate if counties can adopt a guaranteed income program and if doing so violates the Texas Constitution’s gift ban.

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Paxton sued to suspend the program, citing the Texas Constitution prohibiting public funding for individuals.

In court, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee contends that “helping families in need” is a proper use of government funding. Giving individuals the tools to escape poverty is moral and good policy.”

He argued in a brief to the OAG that the program doesn’t violate the constitution because it serves a “‘public purpose,’” the Texas courts’ applicable standard.

After the Texas Supreme Court issued an administrative stay, Democrat Menefee said it was “not surprising given how politicized we’ve seen the Texas Supreme Court become.” One justice has publicly criticized Harris County leaders at a political event and stated his intent to undermine the County.

Democratic judges dominate Harris County courts. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, wants to switch seats on the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court in November.

The high court ordered the county to answer to the state’s emergency relief request by Monday. The court should rule soon.

Harris County is not the first Texas county to pioneer this approach. Austin city council members approved a $1.1 million guaranteed income trial program operated by UpTogether with taxpayer funds in May 2022. They authorized $1.3 million of taxpayer funds for a second guaranteed income program in September 2023.

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When 43 Democratic mayors established “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income” in April 2021, former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner campaigned for a guaranteed income program. They stated that “economic security isn’t a new challenge or a partisan issue” and that taxpayer-funded income guarantees to low-income individuals without conditions might end or reduce poverty.

Source: The Center Square

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