Uplift Harris: Reaction after Texas AG sues to stop Harris County's guaranteed income program

Reaction is pouring in after the Texas Attorney General filed suit this week to stop the Uplift Harris guaranteed income program.

More than 1,900 low income families had been notified they would start receiving $500 a month for 18 months to spend as they see fit. The program is modeled on guaranteed income programs around the country aimed at helping people lift themselves out of poverty.

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Recipients we spoke with last week said they were already making plans for the money and feeling a huge sense of relief from the high inflation of the last few years.

"My medication got more expensive, gas. It's going to help in all areas," said Alfredo Ray Almanza.

Richard Magame said he planned to use the money for "housing and tools.  I need tools to work with."

"I want to work toward going to school and getting my own place," said recipient LaJosie Murphy-Thomas.

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A few weeks before the first checks were to arrive, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit to stop them, arguing this use of $20 million in COVID relief funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act violates the state constitution.

State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R - West Harris County) asked Paxton to weigh in on the legality of the program.

"It's preposterous. You can't do this with the public's money. You can't have a lottery giveaway by zip code of a benefit that has no governmental benefit with no strings attached.  You are violating the Texas gift clause by doing it," said Bettencourt.

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Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says he will fight the suit in court.

"There are many instances where governments provide benefits directly to people, in many instances, direct cash assistance to people," said Menefee at a press conference.  

Menefee also pointed out that the Attorney General did not target the guaranteed income programs that have already taken place in San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso.

But Menefee says he expects the case to go to the conservative-led Texas Supreme Court.

"So let's just say I'm less than confident the county is going to get a fair shake in the Texas Supreme Court," said Menefee.

Some advocates for low-income families say this is politics at the expense of the poor, who were already counting on the money to pay bills.

"It just seemed like it was pure mean, right? I mean, one of the things that we've seen with programs like this is that they're very helpful in fighting child poverty. They're terrific for low-income families in sort of getting them up on their feet and going again," said Dr. Bob Sanborn, President and CEO of Children at Risk.

Two hearings are expected on the case in the coming weeks.