Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 17, 2024

Texas Supreme Court Stops Harris County Income Program

According to the Washington Examiner, the Texas Supreme Court has halted Harris County's "Uplift Harris" guaranteed income pilot program.

This decision raises doubts about the program's constitutionality and the use of COVID-19 relief funds.

Harris County introduced the "Uplift Harris" program in June 2023, utilizing $20.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. The initiative aimed to provide $500 monthly payments to 1,928 residents for 18 months. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt claimed in January 2024 that the program was illegal and sought a formal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton filed a lawsuit in April 2024 to halt the program.

Legal Challenges and Lower Court Rulings

The 165th District Court and the 14th Court of Appeals initially ruled in favor of Harris County. However, on April 24, 2024, the Texas Supreme Court issued an administrative stay, halting the program. By February 2024, over 82,000 residents had applied, with participants selected by April.

In a 12-page ruling on June 17, 2024, Justice Jimmy Blacklock stated that the state's motion to stop the program was granted, pending further court orders. Justice Blacklock expressed concerns about the oversight of fund expenditure. He noted that the program was not designed to monitor how recipients spent the money.

Justice Blacklock wrote, "Although we make no definitive statement 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."

Concerns Over Fund Allocation

Justice Blacklock highlighted the "no strings attached" nature of the stipend, indicating a lack of public control over the disbursed funds. He pointed out that a county official testified the program did not aim to monitor recipients' purchases.

Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that the program was a clear violation of the Texas Constitution, which prohibits giving public money to individuals. Paxton stated, "Harris County's guaranteed income scheme is a clear and flagrant violation of the Texas Constitution."

Paxton further asserted that the Texas Supreme Court's intervention was necessary to stop the misuse of taxpayer money. He said, "The Texas Supreme Court has stepped in and put a stop to this abuse of power and unlawful use of taxpayer money while the case continues."

Defense of the Program

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee defended the program, arguing that it served a public purpose. Menefee described the ruling as a "disappointing move" and expressed concern about its broader implications. He suggested that the decision could affect how similar programs are attacked across the U.S.

Menefee emphasized the importance of helping the poor through government programs. He said, "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."

Despite the setback, Menefee vowed to continue fighting for Harris County residents and local control. He stated that his office "will keep fighting for Harris County residents and local control."

Attorney General Paxton's stance against the program reflects a strict interpretation of the Texas Constitution, emphasizing the prohibition of public money being given to individuals. On the other hand, Menefee's defense of the program highlights its intended public benefit and the role of government in aiding vulnerable populations.

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About Ashton Snyder

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