Texas County to Launch Guaranteed Income Program in 2024 with COVID Relief Funds

    Eligible citizens of Harris County, Texas, are set to receive the initial payment of a new "guaranteed basic income program" starting in 2024. The program is backed by $20.5 million from President Biden's American Rescue Plan Act, passed in 2021 for COVID-19 relief.

Initially approved in June, the "Uplift Harris" program is set to provide monthly payments of $500 to 1,928 low-income households in Harris County for 18 months, commencing in April. Harris County recently unveiled additional details on its website in preparation for the start of applications in January.

"The goal of the program is to improve participants’ financial and health outcomes, as well as understanding the impacts of direct cash assistance on both individuals and their communities," the site stated.

To be eligible for the program, participants must be 18 years or older and have an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level in one of ten "targeted" ZIP codes in Harris County. This encompasses individuals earning less than $29,160, with the income threshold increasing based on household size. Only one person per household will be permitted to participate in the program.

Participants in the program will receive the monthly payments through a bank transfer or a prepaid "reloadable" debit card, catering to users without a bank account. The funds can be utilized in any manner by the participant, with the only restriction being that it cannot be used "to buy or support anything that would harm the safety and security of other participants in the Uplift Harris Direct Cash Assistance Pilot and/or other community members," "for the promotion of and/or engagement in any criminal or illegal activities," or "to support any entities or individuals relating to terrorism."

Additionally, the money will be considered a "tax-exempt charitable gift" and will not impact any public benefits that a participant may already be receiving.

During the vote on the proposal in June, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo suggested that undocumented immigrants could potentially be eligible for the program if deemed appropriate by the court.

"Can the undocumented community apply? If the county attorney says they can, they will. If the county attorney says they can’t, they won’t. What I was told is they can," Hidalgo stated.

In a statement endorsing the proposal, Hidalgo remarked, "It is uncivilized that we live in a society where people cannot afford basic necessities. 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."

According to the website, the Uplift Harris Direct Cash Assistance Pilot is an initiative of Harris County Public Health and will be administered by GiveDirectly, a nonprofit charitable organization, in collaboration with its tech partner, AidKit.

Harris County stated that, contingent on the availability of additional funding, one goal of the program is "long-term sustainability and gradual expansion."