Harris County’s guaranteed basic income program, called Uplift Harris, was set to kick off at the start of the year, but the application portal was delayed until January 12.

The cause? A disagreement over whether or not illegal aliens were permitted to apply for the program.

Locally, Uplift Harris was the brainchild of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. However, the idea has been spreading like wildfire across the country in recent years. 

Using $20.5 million of Harris County’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, the Democrat majority on the Commissioners Court voted to create this program, which will give roughly 1,900 Harris County households, that are 200 percent below the poverty line, $500 a month for eighteen months. Applicants must live in one of ten zip codes and, if selected, the monthly funds are deposited into their bank account or they’ll be provided a prepaid debit card.

Programs like this are not new and have lately regained popularity. 

Over the years they have been proposed by people spanning the political and ideological spectrum like Milton Friedman and Andrew Yang, but most attempts have been short-lived. 

However, in 2020, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income was launched by former Stockton Mayor Michael D. Tubbs, who was running a program in his city called SEED, Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration. 

Through Mayors for AGI, Tubbs and allies have successfully encouraged more than 100 local jurisdictions to launch some form of guaranteed income, and Harris County is just the latest. 

Run through Harris County Public Health and administered by GiveDirectly, the pilot program is intended to test the concept and continue to expand depending on available local funding. This means once the federal relief aid runs out, local officials will likely look to local taxpayers to foot the bill for continuing it. 

When the Commissioners Court first approved the item, Judge Lina Hidalgo indicated she would support it as long as “undocumented immigrants” were able to apply for funding as well. At the time, she claimed they would be, but since then, guidance from the Harris County Attorney’s Office determined that was not the case. 

At Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, she said this program was the best way to address inequality and poverty and she didn’t want to leave people out “artificially.” However, she signaled her intention to create a similar program for illegal aliens in the future using private funds. 

To learn more about Guarenteed Basic Income programs, check out the first episode of Texas Tomorrow with Charles Blain.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.