Texas senator says the plan to give poor residents a $500 guaranteed basic income is unconstitutional

Texas flag
The state flag of Texas.P A Thompson/Getty Images
  • A Texas state senator is challenging the constitutionality of a guaranteed basic income program.

  • Harris County, which includes Houston, plans to give qualifying residents $500 a month.

  • The congressman asked the state attorney general to issue a legal opinion on the program.

A Texas state senator says a Houston-area program to give people $500 a month with no strings attached should be declared unconstitutional.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt sent a letter on January 12 to the state attorney general asking him to issue an opinion on whether counties have the authority to enact guaranteed income programs.

Guaranteed basic income is similar to universal basic income except it targets a particular group. Similar programs to the one in Harris County are being adopted in cities all over the country.

Bettencourt's request came the same day the program — called Uplift Harris — started taking applications. The Uplift Harris program plans to provide eligible households in Harris County, which includes Houston, $500 a month for up to 18 months.

County officials used more than $20 million of federal COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Plan to fund the project. The program received more than 48,000 applications in the first three days, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In his letter to the attorney general, Bettencourt noted a section of the Texas constitution that says the legislature can not give any county power to grant public money for the aid of an individual.

"They are not a Home Rule city," Bettencourt told Houston Public Media. "They cannot create new law themselves. And I don't see anywhere since I've been in office that the state has granted them authority to have a program like Uplift Harris."

Uplift Harris provides guaranteed basic income to households in the zip codes with the highest poverty rates in Harris County, according to the program's website. Bettencourt asked Houston Public Media why only these certain zip codes were chosen and "who's picking the lucky 1,900 winners versus everyone else that's technically a loser by definition?"

"What happens when that money runs out?" Bettencourt said, according to the outlet. "Who is going to continue this program? And more importantly, there's a lot of fundamental, basic questions about this program."

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday that Bettencourt is attacking a program meant to help people in poverty and that his office will defend itself against the senator's legal claims.

"He's more focused on political games and weaponizing government institutions than making life better for the people of Harris County," Menefee told the outlet. "The county's program is legal and we will make that clear to the Attorney General."

Read the original article on Business Insider