Uplift Harris: Texas Supreme Court continues halt of guaranteed income payments

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday ordered a continued halt on the distribution of Uplift Harris payments as the constitutionality of Harris County’s guaranteed income program is being considered.

In April, Texas Attorney Ken Paxton announced that he sued the county over the pilot program that would provide nearly 2,000 residents with $500 per month for 18 months, calling it "unconstitutional".

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

In response, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee characterized as "legally flawed" Paxton's claim that the stipends for low-income families constitute an illegal gift from government.

Less than an hour before payments were set to go out in late April, the Supreme Court blocked the payments until they heard the case.

PREVIOUS: Ken Paxton's lawsuit freezes Uplift Harris County program's $500 monthly payments

In an opinion released Friday, the Supreme Court said, "Although we make no definitive statements about the merits, the State has raised serious doubt about the constitutionality of the Uplift Harris program, and this potential violation of the Texas Constitution could not be remedied or undone if payments were to commence while the underlying appeal proceeds."

On X, Menefee wrote, "In a disappointinFg move, the TX Supreme Court sided w/ @KenPaxtonTX, ruling Harris County’s guaranteed income program to help needy families is likely illegal. I disagree w/ this decision, which could impact how the GOP attacks similar programs across the US. Helping the poor is part of our job in government. That’s why programs like this exist across the country and our state. This decision could end Uplift Harris as it exists today. My office will keep fighting for Harris County residents and local control."

To be eligible for the Uplift Harris program, applicants had to have a household income below 200% of the poverty level and live in one of ten Harris County zip codes with high poverty rates or be a current participant of ACCESS Harris County.

PREVIOUS: Application process for 'Uplift Harris' income program announced

(Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images)

The Uplift Harris Guaranteed Income Pilot program received over 82,500 applications from Jan. 12 through Feb. 2., but only 1,928 recipients were chosen by a two-stage lottery system. Notifications for those who were picked went out in March, and the first payment was set to be distributed to selected recipients as early as April 24.

Harris County officials said the program was being funded by a $20.5 million federal grant from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In reaction to the court's decision on Friday, Commissioner Rodney Ellis issued the following statement:

"Once again, the narrow-minded powers in Austin have ruled against the working families of Texas.  Uplift Harris is an innovative program based on highly successful efforts both outside and inside the state.  It’s proven instrumental in pulling people from the brink of economic despair and is effective at reversing the burden of poverty smothering too many of our fellow Harris County residents.

Extreme partisan political leadership in our state is far more interested in attacking local decisions and local efforts to do the job they refuse to take on.  By blocking Harris County’s use of federal dollars to assist our neighbors in addressing daily financial challenges – such as nutrition, health care or transportation – Austin leadership continues its intentional attack on the families who constitute the foundation of our state’s economy.

Now 1,900 working families who were expecting to have their lives changed have been robbed of a critical hand-up. But this fight is not over.  I will tirelessly fight for Harris County families by using these resources in a manner that will allow them to thrive.  This decision is a slap in the face to these 1,900 families and every one of the 750,000 people living under the crushing weight of poverty in Harris County."