HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Applications for Harris County's guaranteed income pilot program called "Uplift Harris" are now open.
The program was originally scheduled to start taking applications this past Monday. However, Harris County commissioners said they needed more time to discuss the program.
The video above is from a previous report.
Uplift Harris will distribute $500 a month in guaranteed cash payments to nearly 2,000 eligible low-income households for 18 months. Eligible applicants must live below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is about $60,000 for a household of four. You also have to be at least 18 years old.
Recipients must also live in one of the 10 highest-poverty zip codes in the county: 77026, 77028, 77033, 77050, 77051, 77060, 77081, 77091, 77093, and 77547.
Another way to qualify is to participate in the ACCESS (Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self-Sufficiency) Harris County program. ACCESS serves vulnerable populations whose needs span multiple public benefit programs, including financial support and assistance.
On Thursday, county health officials said 30,000 people had inquired about the program through the county's website. ABC13 asked if the county website was ready to handle the demand on Friday.
"If it's not, people are going to be getting calls from me personally," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. "I've been guaranteed it's going to be running, but, you know, websites can have glitches at any time."
If there are issues with the website on Friday, officials say you shouldn't panic. Harris County residents have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2 to apply.
After that date, they'll randomly select 1,928 families who will start to receive the money in April through a lottery process. The program is not first come, first served.
Leaders hope the extra cash will help struggling families pay for essential needs such as rent, groceries, transportation, housing, utilities, healthcare, and more. But ultimately, recipients can spend the funds however they want.
The funding is made possible by a $20.5 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Harris County Commissioners Court approved the funding back in June.
Harris County residents will be able to submit their applications on the Uplift Harris website, starting at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Economists said website issues may not be the only problem. Pilot programs like these are new, and the results are inconclusive.
They've been done in California, Michigan, and Massachusetts. However, economists said the long-term results aren't known.
With an 18-month window, they said there are concerns about what happens when the program ends and if the guaranteed money will deter people from looking for work.
"There's always the question of whether or not a policy like this might discourage somebody from getting out of the adverse financial situation that they might be in," Fiscal Insights agent Jorge Barro said.
There's also the issue of undocumented people. Since the money is from the federal government, county leaders say undocumented individuals can't receive it.
County leaders are looking at options, including using county tax dollars on a second program.
"What we could do is take some things that we're paying for with general fund money, pay for that with ARPA money, and then take the general fund money, set up a second program, and make as many changes as we want to make," Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis explained.
Leaders provided no timeline on when a second program could be rolled out.
Ellis said nearly four in 10 residents in Harris County would not be able to afford a $400 emergency expense. The county said it has one of the highest rates of economic inequity in the U.S., with 16.4% of residents living in poverty.