County leaders defend Uplift Harris

I appreciate the passion and intensity in this response, but overall it does not leave me feeling optimistic about the outcome.

Harris County leaders are defending their new guaranteed income program after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sued to stop the initiative from going into effect, accusing the attorney general of targeting the Houston area while overlooking similar programs in San Antonio, Austin and El Paso.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the timing of the lawsuit “cruel” and “unscrupulous,” alleging Paxton’s office waited until recipients had been notified they had been selected for the program before filing the lawsuit.

Harris County approved its pilot program last June, which aims to send $500 monthly payments for 18 months to around 1,900 low-income households. Now, with recipients notified and the first payments scheduled for later this month, Paxton’s office has asked a Harris County district court judge to stop the checks from going out and rule that the program is unconstitutional under state law.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis said it was clear the state had become “too comfortable with using people as props,” and some of the county’s poorest residents could pay the price.

Though the $20.5 million Uplift Harris program is funded using a portion of the county’s federal pandemic recovery dollars, Paxton’s office is arguing the program violates a state law that prohibits the gift of public funds to any individual.


Paxton’s lawsuit is part of a broader movement to oppose the guaranteed income pilot programs that have emerged around the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. State lawmakers in Arizona, Iowa and Wisconsin have introduced legislation to prohibit programs that were implemented in Phoenix, Des Moines and Madison. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, vetoed the bill last year on the grounds that he objected to the Legislature’s “continued efforts to arbitrarily restrict and preempt local government partners across our state.”

Paxton’s office also questioned the legality of the Uplift Harris selection process, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

In the first stage of the process, some 6,000 eligible applicants were randomly selected from the over 82,000 applications received. Finally, around 1,900 participants were randomly selected from that group. To be eligible, applicants had to live below 200% of the federal poverty line and live in one of 10 high-poverty zip codes or participate in the ACCESS Harris County public health program.

The Attorney General’s office argued Uplift Harris violated state law because it used a “random lottery” to select participants, a method employed in numerous programs including the Houston Housing Authority’s public housing waitlist and the City of Austin’s rental assistance fund.

Though Menefee, Ellis and Hidalgo vowed to defend the program all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, they said Wednesday they doubted that the state’s top justices – all of whom are elected Republicans – would deliver a ruling that rises above partisan politics.

Menefee admitted he is “less than confident” that the county will receive fair treatment, particularly from Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine, who made headlines last week for remarks he made at a conservative event that included criticism of Harris County.

See here for the background. Devine is a genuine problem, but if the fix is indeed in then it almost doesn’t matter. Again, I don’t know enough about the law here to make an educated guess about anything, but we know Ken Paxton rarely has a strong legal argument when he files these lawsuits. He’s banking on the refs being on his side. Sometimes that doesn’t work for him. Maybe this is one of those times. At this point, I don’t know what else to say.

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