Texas Supreme Court Blocks Harris County ‘Guaranteed Income’ Program


The Texas Supreme Court has halted a “guaranteed income” pilot program launched by Harris County, likely setting the stage for the program to be scrapped altogether. In a 12-page ruling, Justice Jimmy Blacklock delivered the opinion for the court, granting the state’s motion to halt the program and ordering all payments “prohibited pending further order of this court.”

This is the second time the high court has ruled on, and halted, the program. In April, the Texas Supreme Court issued an administrative stay to temporarily block Harris County’s “Uplift Harris” guaranteed income pilot program from going into effect until the court could hear the case, granting an emergency request filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Harris County first announced its plan in June 2023 to use $20.5 million in COVID-19 relief money it received through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to “provide no-strings-attached $500 monthly cash payments to 1,928 Harris County residents for 18 months.” The Democratic-controlled Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the program despite the federal government stipulating that the funds could only be used for COVID-19-related programs.

In January, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, sounded the alarm, saying the program is illegal and requested Paxton to issue a formal opinion. Paxton sued in April to stop the program, arguing it violates the Texas Constitution, which prohibits “any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State … to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual.”

Two courts first ruled against him, but Paxton appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which first temporarily halted the program in April, preventing any payments from being made. The court handed Paxton a second win on Friday, more permanently blocking the payments from being made.

“We conclude that the State’s motion for temporary relief should be granted,” Justice Blacklock said in the ruling. “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.”

The ruling contradicts a claim made by Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, who is defending the program in court. Menefee argued it doesn’t violate the Texas Constitution because it serves a “public purpose.”

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