Senator Paul Bettencourt Lauds Texas AG Lawsuit against Harris County “Uplift Harris” Program

Austin, TX – In 2023, Harris County announced they would be implementing a program titled “Uplift Harris” which would provide awarded low-income families in Harris County’s Commissioners Court selected by City of Houston ZIP codes $500 per month for 18 months. These 9k payments per lucky winner were announced as “no-strings-attached” with no restrictions on how recipients could spend the money. Harris County is the first and only county to pilot a UBI program in the State of Texas. Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) subsequently filed an opinion request to the Texas Attorney General in January of 2024 after the program announced it would start receiving applications. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against Harris County regarding the constitutionality of the program.

“When I first saw that Harris County was going to take applications on a Universal Basic Income, UBI, program I knew I had to act. I immediately submitted an opinion request to the Attorney General’s office to look at this issue because I was very concerned that the “Uplift Harris” program violated the “gift clause” of the Texas constitution, especially since it is a lottery of who wins the money. There is 1 lucky winner for every 40 losers in this Leftist Progressive program.” Stated Senator Bettencourt.

When the program opened, more than 82,000 applications were submitted for the program, which only had 1,928 available household slots which is 1 out of 41 “winners”. Applicants are then screened for eligibility and are then entered into the lottery system for a chance to be selected. Harris County Public Health stated that a “lucky 6,000” are chosen for the final program and then randomized to 1,928.

“This scheme is plainly unconstitutional. Taxpayer money must be spent lawfully and used to advance the public interest, not merely redistributed with no accountability or reasonable expectation of a general benefit. I am suing to stop officials in Harris County from abusing public funds for political gain.” Said Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Texas Attorney General argues that the program violates Article III of the Texas Constitution and flouts the State’s prohibition against gratuitous payments of public funds to private persons without any return consideration to the State or its political subdivision, Harris County. Further, the OAG argues that the county violated Article I, Section 3 of the Texas Constitution because its classification of recipients is arbitrary because it employs a random lottery as opposed to a rational classification, and not all members of the classification used to select the winners will receive payments under the program.

“What an unbelievable waste of $20.5 million taxpayer dollars this is! It is ludicrous to pick 1,928 family winners out of a “lucky 6,000” chosen for the program by Harris County Public Health, in their own words, out of 82,000 applications for UBI. Only the lucky few win and this is “Lottery Socialism” as it is pure, “no-strings-attached”, random gifts of public money in Texas. This is just simply wrong on so many levels for a county to do this.” Concluded Senator Bettencourt.