Harris Co. commissioners approve 'Uplift Harris' program, OK fight over election restrictions

Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Harris Co. leaders OK fight against Texas over election restrictions
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The Harris County Commissioners are set to take the state of Texas to court over a bill that greatly restricts the county's election powers.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A guaranteed income pilot program that will provide monthly cash payments to Harris County residents living in poverty passed in a vote at Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

The program, which is called Uplift Harris and is funded with federal dollars, passed with a 4-1 vote. The only no-vote was from Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom S. Ramsey.

SEE ALSO: Harris County proposes guaranteed income program to send $500 monthly to 1,500 families

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said 1,400 to 1,600 families will ultimately receive $500 a month for 18 months, and the county said it'll spend $20.5 million overall on those payments.

She said participants will not be told what they have to spend their money on, and they hope to open the application process in September.

The county also expects there to be more applicants than available funds, so those selected will be done so at random.

"Payments are meant to help people break the cycle of poverty. Recipients will be selected from the 10 most impoverished zip codes throughout the county, which make an annual median income of $35,000," Hidalgo said.

These are the zip codes eligible for these payments. They include residents of both Harris County and the city of Houston:

  • 77050
  • 77093
  • 77051
  • 77060
  • 77028
  • 77033
  • 77026
  • 77081
  • 77547
  • 77091

Additionally, participants in Harris County Public Health's ACCESS Program are also eligible to receive these payments.

No further details or timelines about the payouts have yet been made available.

Dissenting opinions in court on Tuesday included why only certain areas were targeted, questions about whether it was legal to use federal funding for this purpose, and the issue of people not being required to spend their money on certain items.

READ MORE: Elections bill targeting Harris County heads to Gov. Abbott's desk

The guaranteed income program wasn't the only closely-watched item on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting.

Texas lawmakers recently passed bills that allow the state to take control over Harris County elections, a move the county says it will challenge in court.

In a vote on Tuesday, the commissioners decided to hire a law firm to fight the new laws in court.

Senate Bill 1750 gets rid of the Elections Administrator position the county commissioners created three years ago, and it specifically targets Harris County. Senate Bill 1933 establishes state election oversight.

The oversight would be triggered if the secretary of state found there was "good cause to believe" that Harris County had "a recurring pattern of problems" with election administration or voter registration.

All 254 Texas counties were subject to state oversight initially, but a last-minute amendment targets exclusively Harris County.

SB 1750 was also originally drafted with a wider scope, applying to counties with at least 1 million residents. However, it was narrowed to only impact counties with 3.5 million residents. Harris County is the only county in the state that meets that requirement.

One expert ABC13 spoke with said the state does have the legal right to single out counties based on population.