Uplift Harris: Multi-million dollar program provides guaranteed income to residents in need

A new, multi-million dollar program was announced Monday in Harris County that looks to help bridge economic inequality and reduce poverty. 

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis introduced the $20.5 million investment program called Uplift Harris. The program will be proposed during Tuesday's Commissioner's Court meeting.

As the first of its kind for the city, a pilot program would launch later this year, if approved, where families living below 200% of the federal poverty line - approximately $40,000 for a family of four - will receive $500 a month to support household needs. 

However, Commissioner Ellis says programs like these have worked in other areas. 

"Similar programs in other cities and counties have been shown to increase employment and the incentive to work while reducing poverty," he said in a press release. "But the benefits go even further. Families report improvements to their physical and mental health and are able to spend more time with their children. They also have a greater sense of self-determination when they are trusted with the resources they need to build a better life."

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If approved, the program would run for 18 months starting in the Fall and administered by a third-party agency and subjected to rigorous evaluation, the county noted. 

The guaranteed funds would help families meet their basic needs like paying rent, buying groceries, transportation, or child care. Because Harris County is one of the most economically segregated regions in the U.S., with wealth disparities impacting people of color, the program looks to address these concerns. 

"Decades of neglect, inequity, and discrimination have financially destabilized generations of Harris County families, perpetuated poverty, and created unfair barriers to prosperity," Commissioner Ellis explained. "Unchecked and ongoing inequality has created an economic divide that families can’t overcome on their own, and Harris County has an obligation to act."

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"It is uncivilized that we live in a society where people cannot afford basic necessities," Judge Hidalgo added in the release. "We all may know hardworking families who are one extra cost away from falling off their stable path."

Families eligible for the program will be randomly selected, according to the release, who either live in targeted high-poverty ZIP Codes or participate in Harris County Public Health’s ACCESS (Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency) Harris County, a program to improve the lives of residents experiencing hardship and facing health challenges, financial and housing needs, and social inequity.

"As county leaders, we have a duty to employ all the tools that we can to reduce poverty. This pilot program will support the people that work incredibly hard day and night but still need an uplift."

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To learn more about similar programs like this, click here.