Paxton sues over Uplift Harris


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Harris County over Uplift Harris, its new guaranteed income pilot program, calling the effort to administer $500 monthly payments to low-income residents the “Harris Handout.”

Though participants have been selected and notified already, Paxton is aiming to stop what he argues is an “illegally implemented” program. He is asking the court to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the program from being implemented and to declare that Uplift Harris is unconstitutional under state law.

Around 1,900 participants selected to receive the payments were notified last month, with the first checks expected to be sent out as early as April 24. The Uplift Harris program, which is federally funded using the county’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars, is designed to distribute the payments for 18 months.

But now, 10 months after the program was announced, Paxton’s office is challenging the initiative following an inquiry from Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt.


In January, Bettencourt asked Paxton’s office to weigh in on whether counties have the authority to carry out a guaranteed income program and if such an initiative would violate a state law that prohibits the gift of public funds to any individual.

[Harris County Attorney Christian] Menefee previously has argued that the program does not violate the clause because it accomplishes a legitimate public purpose and has sufficient controls in place to prove its purpose and measure its effectiveness.

However, Paxton’s office has reached a different conclusion, making the case that the program does not accomplish a public purpose and Harris County does not retain public control over the funds since recipients are given the money with “no strings attached.”

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Tuesday called Uplift Harris a “transformational hand-up” rather than the “handout” Paxton described.

“This lawsuit from Ken Paxton reads more like a MAGA manifesto than a legal document,” Ellis said in a statement.

I have not written about Uplift Harris before now, so follow the links in the excerpt to learn more. I don’t have an informed opinion about the legal merits of this case, but suffice it to say that there’s never a reason to take Ken Paxton’s word for anything. All that really matters is whether there’s a court he can get to that’s wired to give him what he wants. This paragraph from the Trib story makes me think that at the least this isn’t a clear winner for him:

Harris County is the latest Texas locality to experiment with guaranteed income programs, following efforts in Austin, San Antonio and El Paso County. Local officials across the country turned to such efforts in recent years to help needy families weather high housing and food costs and bounce back from the pandemic’s economic fallout. Beneficiaries of a guaranteed income pilot program in Austin, which ended last year, received $1,000 a month and mostly used that money to help them stay housed as the city faced exorbitant increases in home prices and rents, an Urban Institute survey found.

While there are obviously differences in what cities can do versus what counties can do, the fact that none of these other programs – including as noted one in El Paso County, which would be equivalent to Harris’ – had drawn this level of scrutiny is worth pondering. Maybe Bettencourt didn’t care until it happened here, I don’t know, and yet it still took him the better part of a year to question it. It’s hard not to smell the political motives in this, is what I’m saying. Houston Landing has more.

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13 Responses to Paxton sues over Uplift Harris

  1. The legal concerns aside, I’m sure we can all think of much better uses for that $20.5 million dollars, such as giving it to the Houston Food Bank, using it to fund more indigent mental health services or substance abuse programs, more rental assistance to prevent evictions, more funds for the Houston Star of Hope, etc. There are numerous underfunded social programs in Houston that could really use those funds to help a lot of needy people in a structured, targeted way. Just handing out free money to a tiny group of people to spend however they please (no strings attached) sounds like a lazy, inefficient, and potentially wasteful way to use that federal assistance money, especially since it appears over $3M of the $20.5M “Uplift Harris” money is being used to cover program administrative costs (1,900 participants X $500 a month X 18 months only equals $17.1M, not $20.5M). Spending $3M to give away $17M is a prime example of government waste.

  2. Joel says:

    “Just handing out free money to a tiny group of people to spend however they please (no strings attached) sounds like a lazy, inefficient, and potentially wasteful way to use that federal assistance money”

    Greg, universal basic income programs have proven to be as or more effective at addressing poverty, inequality, and social problems than the sorts of ways you advocate. Criticizing the program without knowing that seems “lazy …”

  3. Ross says:

    Leave it to Paul Bettencourt to hate anything that helps people less fortunate than him. What a toad.

  4. Joel, it goes back to the old saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It sounds like you want the government to just hand out free fish every day… forever? How does handing out free money to people to spend however they want motivate them to learn a trade or get a job? Besides, our government is already $34 trillion dollars in debt, so we can’t afford universal basic income (free handouts) for all. Given that reality, we need to focus on properly funding our existing social programs and charities, not giving away money to a small group of people with no strings attached.

  5. Joel, what do you think about Harris County spending $3 million dollars to give away $17 million dollars? Wouldn’t it have been better to just write the Houston Food Bank a check for $20 million dollars (the full amount) and save $3 million dollars in “Uplift Harris” administrative fees?

  6. C.L. says:

    Couple things…

    Calling Bettencourt a toad insults all those in the Ranidae family.

    Nobody’s getting rich on an extra $500/mo.

    The Federal Govt being $34T in debt has little to nothing to do with the Fed’s giving HTX $20M to help alleviate 1,900 local resident’s concerns over housing and food, and more to do with the 2024 SSA payments ($1.4T), Medicare/Medicaid ($1.5T), and DoD spending ($806B), as well as the $1.6T spent in 2020 to try and keep us all from dying of Covid. Yes, UV light and bleach enemas would have been much cheaper, but here we are.

  7. Flypusher says:

    The possible pros and cons of UBI have been very vigorously debated in some of the forums I frequent. But eventually you have to try it in real life to see if it works. I look at this as running an experiment, with the bonus that actual real people may avoid being homeless and/ or hungry.

  8. Flypusher, UBI pilot programs have been conducted in cities across the U.S. and in foreign countries, but they have never led to large-scale, long-term implementation. Why? No government can afford to hand out free money on a large scale basis and meet all its’ other obligations. If Harris County approved all 82,000 UBI applicants in just the handful of eligible zip codes, it would cost $738,000,000 (82,000 X $500 X 18 months). To implement UBI across the entire county would cost billions annually. Whether the UBI pilot is successful or not, no government can afford to do it.

  9. J says:

    Republicans hate this kind of program because some of the money might end up going to black people. Republicans like it when government money goes to make them and their rich white friends even richer. Then it is called innovative, far-sighted, an investment in America’s future! When government funds go to poor people, GOPers start howling about Government Waste! and do everything they can to curtail and kill the program.

  10. Andrew Lynch says:

    Hidalgo’s staff were indicted on corruption charges. These types of handout programs attract corruption probes.

  11. Pingback: County leaders defend Uplift Harris | Off the Kuff

  12. Well, in addition to paying $3M in administrative fees to give away $17M, taxpayers will now also have to pay the legal costs associated with fighting the AG lawsuit (which even the County Attorney believes we will lose due to a Republican Texas Supreme Court). Again, wouldn’t it make more sense to just give the full $20M to the Houston Food Bank and avoid the wasted $3M and all the legal drama? As hurricane season approaches, that $20M would let the Houston Food Bank stock up on canned food and bottled water – which would be available to all residents in need.

    While I’d like to see crooked, A-hole Paxton lose, a free giveaway of public money (no strings attached) is hard to support, especially when I can think of much better uses for that $20M.

  13. Pingback: Uplift Harris can proceed | Off the Kuff

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