Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocks Harris County’s guaranteed income pilot program

3 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago Tuesday, April 23 2024 Apr 23, 2024 April 23, 2024 3:05 PM April 23, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
The Texas Supreme Court granted on Tuesday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's request to temporarily halt payments under Harris County's guaranteed income pilot program. Credit: Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune

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The Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked Harris County officials from sending financial assistance to needy families under a new program — the day before families were slated to begin receiving the money.

Justices granted Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request Tuesday to halt the payments while a legal fight over the county’s guaranteed income pilot program plays out. About 1,900 households residing in the county’s poorest neighborhoods would receive monthly, no-strings-attached cash payments of $500 — drawn out of $20.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds — for 18 months.

“It’s unfortunate the court would take such an extraordinary step to block a program that would help people in Harris County — even temporarily,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement after the ruling.

The program was set to begin Wednesday, though there was some confusion about whether the county had begun distributing the funds ahead of schedule. Minutes before the Supreme Court’s order, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said on the social media website X that the county had already sent the first round of checks. But Ellis later said that wasn't the case.

"We were racing to get at least one payment out the door, but unfortunately we were not able to process them before the Supreme Court order came down," Ellis wrote on X. "We will continue to fight to get these 1900 families the support they need and deserve."

Paxton sued the county earlier this month to stop the program, known as Uplift Harris, arguing that it violates a part of the Texas Constitution that says a local government cannot “lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value” to individuals. Lower courts had denied Paxton’s requests to at least temporarily halt payments under the program.

County officials have defended Uplift Harris, aimed at helping households in the county’s 10 poorest ZIP codes who are living below 200% of the federal poverty line, as a legitimate use of public funds.

Other Texas localities — Austin, San Antonio and El Paso County — have experimented with guaranteed income programs in recent years. Last week, the Austin City Council voted to restart the city’s program, which it piloted in 2022.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/04/23/texas-supreme-court-guaranteed-income/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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