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

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday that he has sued Harris County over Uplift Harris, a program that would provide nearly 2,000 residents with $500 per month for 18 months.

"This scheme is plainly unconstitutional," Attorney General Paxton said in a statement. "Taxpayer money must be spent lawfully and used to advance the public interest, not merely redistributed with no accountability or reasonable expectation of a general benefit. I am suing to stop officials in Harris County from abusing public funds for political gain."

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

To be eligible for the 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: Uplift Harris Guaranteed Income Pilot announces award notifications

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 last month, with the first payment 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 a news release, the AG’s office said: "The Texas Constitution expressly forbids "any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State … to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual." Harris County’s program to give public money away with no conditions, no control over expenditure of that money, and no guarantee of public benefit is prohibited. The Constitution also provides that everyone has "equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments." This lottery-based handout violates the Texas Constitution because the selection of recipients is inherently arbitrary. County governments have limited authority to act and, like all governments, can only act in accordance with the Constitution. Harris County has exceeded that authority."

In response, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee called the lawsuit "nothing more than another attack on Harris County government by Republican state leaders looking to make headlines."

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According to Menefee's office, the state is seeking an immediate ruling to block Harris County from beginning to make payments under the program, and a hearing will take place in the next few weeks.

Menefee’s full statement reads:

"This lawsuit is nothing more than another attack on Harris County government by Republican state leaders looking to make headlines. This program is about helping people in a real way by giving them direct cash assistance—something governments have always done. I cannot for the life of me understand why any public servant would be opposed to that.

When corporations are given taxpayer dollars Republican leaders in Austin call it "economic development". When governments use federal dollars to actually help people, Republican leaders in Austin call it socialism.

I think the message Harris County residents have for AG Paxton is to lead in a way that’s going to help people or get out of the way. I will vigorously defend the county and this program in court."