Harris County Sued By Texas Attorney General Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Program

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Harris County over a guaranteed income program he says is “plainly unconstitutional.” The scheme, entitled Uplift Harris, will pay $500 monthly to almost 2,000 residents for 18 months. More than 59,000 people applied for the funding earlier this year, but 1,924 recipients were randomly chosen.

Harris County officials say the money is part of American Rescue Plan Act federal funding, intended to help people financially harmed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Paxton states the cash will now be handed out with “no strings attached.” In a press release, Mr. Paxton noted that the Texas constitution prohibits government agencies from granting “public money or thing of value in aid of, or to, any individual.”

Proponents say the funding will reach some of Harris County’s poorest people, but conservatives spoke against the plan immediately after it was approved by county commissioners last June. Republican State Senator Paul Bettencourt called on Mr. Paxton to oppose the income program and declare it unconstitutional.

The Attorney General quickly condemned the scheme, saying taxpayer dollars should not be redistributed without accountability or discernible public benefit.

The latest initiative joins a growing list of comparable schemes in the Lone Star State. Austin launched a similar program in 2022, giving $1,000 per month to 85 people reportedly at risk of losing their homes. The city’s Mayor, Steve Adler, said the payments were economically beneficial to Austin residents because it costs far more than $1,000 to care for homeless individuals.

By 2023, dozens of American cities and regions had instituted guaranteed income programs. These include Rochester, New York, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Los Angeles County, California. Supporters say the schemes help the poorest people stay in accommodation, pay off debts, and look for work. Critics, however, say they encourage dependency and are financially unsustainable. Many believe it is unfair to take tax dollars from workers and give them to economically inactive people.