Harris County Faces Legal Battle Over $500 Monthly Payments to Low-income Families


A state senator from Texas says that a program in the Houston area that gives people $500 a month with no strings attached should be ruled illegal.

On January 12, state senator Paul Bettencourt wrote to the state attorney general and asked him to say if counties can set up programs that promise income.

A guaranteed basic income is like a global basic income, but it only helps a certain group of people. Lots of towns across the country are starting schemes like the one in Harris County.

The program, called Uplift Harris, began taking applications the same day Bettencourt sent in her request. Uplift Harris is a program that will give $500 a month to qualified families in Harris County, which includes Houston, for up to 18 months.

More than $20 million in government COVID-19 aid from the American Rescue Plan was used to pay for the project by the county. The Houston Chronicle said that in the first three days, more than 48,000 people applied for the program.

Bettencourt pointed out in his letter to the attorney general a part of the Texas constitution that says the lawmakers can’t give any county the power to help a person with public money.

According to Bettencourt, “They are not a Home Rule city.” “They are not able to make new laws on their own.” Since I’ve been in office, I haven’t seen anywhere that the state has permitted them to have a program like Uplift Harris.

According to the program’s website, Uplift Harris gives assured basic income to families in the Harris County zip codes with the highest rates of poverty. Bettencourt asked Houston Public Media why these specific zip codes were picked and what the process was for choosing the lucky 1,900 winners over everyone else, who is by definition a loser.

“What happens when that money runs out?” According to the source, Bettencourt said. “Who will keep this program going?” But what’s more, there are a lot of simple questions about this tool.

Wednesday, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee told the Houston Chronicle that Bettencourt is criticizing a program that helps poor people and that his office will fight the senator’s legal claims.

“He’s more focused on political games and weaponizing government institutions than making life better for the people of Harris County,” the source said. “The county’s program is legal and we will make that clear to the Attorney General.”

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