Jun 6, 2023 - News

Harris County Democrats propose guaranteed income program

Photo illustration of Judge Lina Hidalgo with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios; Photo: Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Harris County Democrats plan to roll out a guaranteed income pilot program in the coming months.

Driving the news: Harris County commissioners will vote today on the Uplift Harris pilot program, which would give $500 monthly to as many as 1,500 families in need for 18 months starting this fall.

  • If the program is approved, the county will leverage $20.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the program.
  • Residents living below 200% of the poverty line — or those making about $60,000 for a family of four or $29,000 for an individual — will qualify.
  • Uplift will initially target high-poverty ZIP codes and those who participate in Harris County Public Health's Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency program.

Why it matters: 8% of Harris County residents live in census tracts considered areas of persistent poverty, per the Houston Chronicle.

  • Areas are considered under "persistent poverty" if they collectively had a poverty rate of 20% or higher for three consecutive decades.

What they're saying: "It is uncivilized that we live in a society where people cannot afford basic necessities," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. "As county leaders, we have a duty to employ all the tools that we can to reduce poverty. This pilot program will support the people that work incredibly hard day and night but still need an uplift."

Between the lines: Guaranteed income can be a polarizing policy choice. Pew Research Center found that nationally 8 in 10 Republicans disapprove of a hypothetical federal program, while Democrats generally favor it.

  • With Democrats having a 4-1 majority on the Harris County Commissioners Court, the Uplift program is likely to pass.

The other side: Commissioner Tom Ramsey, the lone Republican on Commissioners Court, didn't disclose how he would vote but told Axios "there are basic service needs that can be better addressed with these funds."

  • "The program also has high administrative costs that do not benefit the constituents," Ramsey said.

What we're watching: The Commissioners Court meeting, which begins at 10am.

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