Uplift Harris can proceed

So says a judge.

A district judge on Thursday ruled Harris County’s new guaranteed income program can proceed, denying the Texas Attorney General’s office request for a temporary injunction. The state sued Harris County earlier this month, arguing the initiative to provide financial assistance to low-income residents violated a Texas statute prohibiting gifts of public funds.

Harris County Commissioners Court approved the plan last June to send $500 monthly payments to around 1,900 low-income households over the course of 18 months. The $20.5 million Uplift Harris program is funded by federal pandemic recovery dollars.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis called the ruling a “victory for families struggling to make ends meet,” while also acknowledging the legal battle likely isn’t over.

“We stand ready to take our fight all the way to the Texas Supreme Court to protect Uplift Harris,” Ellis said in a statement.


Paxton’s office on Thursday argued Uplift Harris violated the Texas Constitution because it doesn’t serve a public purpose, the participants are randomly selected and there are insufficient controls in place to restrict how recipients use the money.

An attorney with Paxton’s office said the funding would serve no public benefit if a recipient spent the money on a trip to Las Vegas.

“If the community member won and brought all the money back, that could be a benefit,” Judge Ursula Hall wryly noted.

The Harris County Attorney’s Office defended the program, arguing the public purpose is supporting low-income residents, and the lottery selection method is a common tool widely used by public programs, including some operated by the state.

The county also blasted Paxton’s office for filing the lawsuit after recipients had already been notified that they had been selected.

“Because the State has sat on its hands over 10 months despite much public discussion and even a request for an Attorney General opinion from Senator Paul Bettencourt, it cannot come into court on the eve of the program’s start and seek emergency relief,” the county argued in its response to the state’s request to put the program on hold.


Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said Thursday it’s unclear whether Paxton’s office will challenge Austin’s efforts, as well.

“I think trying to assign some sort of logic or intellectual consistency to Ken Paxton’s actions is probably an act of madness,” Menefee said.

However, Menefee said he did feel certain about why Harris County had been targeted.

“One is so they can mention Lina Hidalgo’s name 100 times and hopefully get some media off of her,” Menefee said. “And two is because the participants in our program are low-income Black and brown folks, and I think history has shown that state officials aren’t too favorable to those types of people.”

See here and here for the background. I’m glad my initial pessimism turned out to be unwarranted. Paxton could appeal, but unlike situations where he’s challenging a restraining order against a state law, he won’t be able to stop Uplift Harris by doing so. He got his political moment as Christian Menefee noted, so maybe that’s enough. We’ll see. The Houston Landing has more.

UPDATE: As expected, Paxton has appealed. Given the timeline on these things, unless he can get an emergency order to halt Uplift Harris, it may be that the program has run its course by the time the court issues an opinion. And until he gets such an order, the program may continue.

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6 Responses to Uplift Harris can proceed

  1. Well, it is true taxpayer money is being given away with absolutely no strings attached. While I doubt anyone would use the money to fund a casino trip, there is no prohibition from doing so. At minimum, the county really should have stipulated that the money had to be used for essential needs (e.g. rent, food, utilities, health services). Again, I fully support helping people in need, I just think a free money giveaway, to a relatively small group of people, is not the best way to do it (especially since giving away $17M is costing us $3M in “Uplift Harris” program administrative fees).

    After giving away $20M, I hope Commissioners Court doesn’t come back later this year and vote to raise our property taxes. I hear the hospital district is facing a budget shortfall, the county jail continues to be a bottomless money pit, and almost all county departments will be asking for more money. We shall see.

  2. C.L. says:

    Greg, the CoH has close to a $6B budget for 2024 – you’re concerned $3M or even $20M is a debilitating blip on that radar ? Shit, have you seen the budget ?


  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Alaska gives payments to its residents, from the oil fund, so perhaps that is what Texas should start doing. Of course $500 a month would only be $6,000 a year, that is not exactly going to lift you out of poverty. If I were very poor and got an extra few dollars I would just agonize over what to do with the little bit of extra cash, and end up telling them to keep it.

  4. C.L., I was raised under the old proverb, “waste not, want not.” In my mind, $20M is a lot of money. How much money does the government have to waste before you care? Wasteful government spending can have a cumulative effect, eventually causing budget deficits and calls for more revenue (higher taxes). I just want our elected officials to use our existing government funds wisely, getting the most bang for our limited bucks.

  5. Ross says:

    The County is running the program, not the City. The City general fund budget that runs on taxes is something like $2.3 billion. Or close to it.

    The City budget for public safety is $250 million more than property tax collections.

    That $6 billion amount includes the enterprise funds for the airport, water and sewer, and some other stuff.

  6. Pingback: Appeals court rejects Paxton appeal on Uplift Harris | Off the Kuff

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