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Harris County guaranteed income program gets OK from Texas judge

A state distrcit judge ruled against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit to block Harris County’s guaranteed income program. Judge Lina Hidalgo called it “an important victory.”

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A Texas judge ruled against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit to stop the pilot guaranteed income program, effectively allowing it to resume.

The ruling comes after Paxton’s office sued Harris County last week, arguing that the program, which gives low-income residents $500 a month, violates the Texas Constitution’s provisions on the disbursements of public funds.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Judge Lina Hidalgo called the court’s decision a victory, even though she expects the state to appeal. She also emphasized a previous request for Paxton to visit Harris County in person and meet with the families who would receive the financial assistance.

“This is an important victory,” Hidalgo said. “The Harris County courts are allowing the people of Harris County to receive this aid. From a legal perspective, it’s clear that the state’s case has no merit at all.”

“Donald Trump himself sent out checks to people below a certain income in 2020, which I received,” the county judge continued. “The Texas Attorney General and far-right state leaders constantly bully Harris County, likely to get free news coverage, but doing so harms their own constituents and I urge this to stop. My invitation remains to introduce the Attorney General to some of the hardworking families who can’t pay the bills without this aid. We expect that the state will appeal this ruling, and we will keep fighting for Uplift Harris every step of the way.”

Hidalgo also highlighted how the state’s largest county faces poverty issues, pointing to recent census data that showed 1 in 6 residents living in poverty.

Regarding next steps, County Attorney Christian Menefee said he expects the case to be heard in front of the Texas Supreme Court. and doesn’t anticipate a “fair shake.”

“I expect the state to appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court,” Menefee said in a statement Thursday. “Given what we’ve seen from that court and Republican politics, I am skeptical that we will get a fair shake. But I plan to do everything I can to protect this program.”

Menefee told Chron earlier this week Paxton’s lawsuit is another state attack on Harris County, meant to target low-income Black and brown Democratic-leaning residents.

To qualify for the guaranteed income program, residents had to reside in ten of the county’s poorest zip codes, including neighborhoods like Gulfton, Galena Park, and Sunnyside. The ten zip codes are 77050, 77093, 77051, 77060, 77028, 77033, 77026, 77081, 77547, and 77091. Households were set to get the first installment of the 18-month-long payments on April 24. The 1,928 households were selected under a lottery system process for the Uplift Harris program, approved by Harris County Commissioners last summer.

The county designated $20.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal dollars geared toward an overhaul effort to decrease poverty and help residents pay for necessities like food, housing, and transportation.

County officials said they received roughly 83,000 applicants who were required to live in the ten zip codes or live 200 percent below the federal poverty line, meaning households of four earning around $60,000 a year or one person earning less than $30,000 a year.

Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.