Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 15, 2024

Texas Supreme Court Says Harris County Plan Unconstitutional, Halts Payments

The Supreme Court of Texas has placed a preliminary hold on Harris County's Uplift Harris guaranteed income program, raising constitutional concerns.

The ruling prevents the county from distributing payments while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit against the program is still active, as the Houston Chronicle reports.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court continued the preliminary hold on the Uplift Harris initiative. This program aimed to deliver $500 monthly payments to about 1,900 low-income households for 18 months.

Funded by $20.5 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, the program required applicants to live below 200% of the federal poverty line, reside in one of 10 high-poverty ZIP codes, or participate in the ACCESS Harris County public health program. Over 82,000 people applied with recipients chosen at random.

Legal Challenge by Texas Attorney General

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged the program in April, following an inquiry by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt. This lawsuit came just as the county was preparing to distribute the first checks.

Justice Jimmy Blacklock, writing for the Supreme Court of Texas, issued a 12-page opinion in favor of Paxton’s office. The court's initial hold on April 23 has now been extended indefinitely, indicating potential unconstitutionality. Justice Blacklock observed that such payments might violate Texas’ legal restrictions on gifting public funds.

Blacklock’s opinion suggests that the state’s accusations raise significant doubts about the constitutionality of Uplift Harris, and any violation could not be remedied if payments began prematurely. He also noted the lack of precedent for government payments with "no strings attached" under the state’s Constitution.

Local and Municipal Reactions

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis expressed strong opposition, stating, "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." Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee echoed Ellis’ concerns, warning that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent against public assistance programs.

Menefee argued that bans on gifting public funds are intended to stop cronyism and not to prevent governments from providing financial benefits. This ruling, he said, creates a playbook for conservatives aiming to limit government aid.

Reaction of County Officials and Broader Implications

County Judge Lina Hidalgo criticized the ruling, suggesting political motives behind the resistance to the program. She noted that similar guaranteed income programs exist in other U.S. cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, and San Antonio. Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles have implemented such initiatives, while Austin recently resumed its program, granting $1,000 monthly payments to around 100 low-income households for one year.

The Supreme Court of Texas is staffed entirely by Republicans, each elected statewide. Among them, Justice Jimmy Blacklock, who authored the pivotal opinion, is up for reelection this year. This political context has drawn scrutiny and skepticism regarding the court’s neutrality. County officials, such as Commissioner Ellis and Judge Hidalgo, have defended Uplift Harris as a vital public aid. They argue the program has been misconstrued as an unconstitutional gift rather than essential support for impoverished residents.

Broader Context of Public Assistance Initiatives

Guaranteed income programs have seen growing interest across the U.S., with multiple cities experimenting with similar initiatives. These programs are generally designed to bolster economic stability for low-income families by providing no-strings-attached financial support.

In Harris County’s case, the initial judicial endorsement came from Judge Ursula Hall of Harris County's 165th Civil District Court in April. However, the Texas Supreme Court’s intervention has now cast significant uncertainty on the program’s future.

Author Image

About Ashton Snyder

NewsLetter

Like Gossip?

Get the latest gossip and celebrity news straight to your inbox. choose the newsletters that are right for you. 
Sign up >
Independent conservative news without a leftist agenda.
© 2024 - American Tribune - All rights reserved
Privacy Policy
magnifier