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Texas Attorney General Files Lawsuit Over Harris County’s Guaranteed Income Program

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has brought a case against Harris County, challenging their Uplift Harris program. 

The program aims to provide $500 monthly payments to about 2,000 residents for 18 months. 

The lawsuit has sparked discussions about constitutional rights, public funds, and the role of government assistance.

Earlier this year, Harris County launched the Uplift Harris program, using $20.5 million from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to address poverty and health disparities. 

The program randomly selects low-income applicants to receive $500 monthly payments for 18 months without conditions or obligations.

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Attorney General Paxton asserts that the Uplift Harris program violates the Texas Constitution by using public funds to benefit specific individuals instead of the public. 

He argues that the program, also known as the “Harris Handout,” constitutes an “unlawful” use of taxpayer money.

The lawsuit argues that the Texas Constitution prohibits local governments from awarding public funds directly to individuals and emphasizes the need for equitable distribution and accountability. 

Paxton contends that the selection process, based on a lottery system, lacks transparency and violates constitutional principles of equal rights.

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee has criticized the legal challenge, claiming it attacks the county government’s efforts to support needy residents. 

Menefee defends the program’s provision of direct cash assistance to improve people’s lives, countering Paxton’s claims of unconstitutional use of public funds.

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The central issue of the legal dispute revolves around the interpretation of public benefit and individual aid. 

While Paxton argues that the program fails to ensure general public benefit, Menefee claims that direct cash assistance aligns with the longstanding practice of government support for vulnerable populations.

The Uplift Harris program is funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, reflecting a broader trend of cities and states using federal funds for basic-income pilots and programs. 

However, the legality of such initiatives has come under scrutiny, with Republican lawmakers seeking to ban guaranteed income programs in various states.

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Other basic income pilot programs in Texas cities, such as Austin and San Antonio, have produced positive outcomes, with participants using the funds for essential needs such as housing and food. 

However, the result of the legal challenge against Harris County’s Uplift Harris program could have broader implications for the future of guaranteed income initiatives across the state and beyond.

The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Paxton reflects broader debates within the political landscape regarding the role of government in addressing poverty and inequality. 

As Republican lawmakers push for restrictions on guaranteed income programs, the outcome of this legal battle will shape the trajectory of social welfare policies in Texas and potentially influence national discussions on economic assistance programs.