Judge denies Texas AG Ken Paxton's effort to block Harris County's guaranteed basic income program

County officials have said "Uplift Harris" is about lifting people out of poverty by giving $500 to recipients for 18 months.

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Friday, April 19, 2024
Harris Co., wins 1st round of legal battle on Uplift program
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit to stop the $500 monthly payments to low earners but a judge ruled against him.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The fight over Harris County's guaranteed basic income pilot program, Uplift Harris, moved to the courtroom Thursday morning.

During a temporary injunction hearing, a judge denied Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's request to block Harris County from disbursing $500 per month to low-income families.

The hearing comes more than a week after Paxton sued the county over the program, claiming it violates the state Constitution's ban on cities and counties gifting public funds to people or corporations. Paxton asked the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to stop it from moving forward.

His lawsuit alleges the county redistributed the $20.5 million it received through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to be used for COVID-19 relief initiatives. It also claims the selection of recipients is "inherently arbitrary."

Paxton also called the program "a socialist experiment" and said, "There's no such thing as free money - especially in Texas." He goes on to cite a provision regulating the distribution of public money.

But Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said that this provision was intended to prohibit government officials from using public funds to "give money to their buddies as a gift."

"This isn't designed to do that. This guaranteed basic income program is about lifting people out of poverty. That's why it was legal when former President Donald Trump issued the stimulus checks," Menefee said.

PREVIOUS STORY: Texas AG Ken Paxton sues Harris County over guaranteed income program 'Uplift Harris'

Around 1,900 participants had already been selected to receive the $500 for 18 months. The first checks were expected to go out next week.

The Houston Chronicle reports that over 82,500 applications were submitted for the program, which used a two-stage lottery system.

About 6,000 eligible applicants were selected for the first stage and the final recipients came from that pool.

To qualify, recipients must live 200% below the federal poverty line, which is about $60,000 for a household of four, live in one of 10 targeted high-poverty zip codes, or already be part of the ACCESS Harris County program.

"(Thursday's) decision is a big win for Harris County residents," Menefee said. "Helping families in need is a proper use of government funds. It's ridiculous that politicians in Austin would be traveling to Harris County just to block us from helping people."

County officials said the state is expected to appeal and request that the Texas Supreme Court block the program as the case is pending. Given that the county is scheduled to disburse Uplift Harris funds on April 24, the Supreme Court will be asked to make that decision as soon as possible.

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

Read the full lawsuit here:


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