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Harris County to implement universal basic income pilot program

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(The Center Square) – The Democratic controlled Harris County Commissioners Court approved a universal basic income pilot program it’s calling “Uplift.”

As with most of the votes since the November election after Democrats ousted Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle through redistricting, commissioners passed the measure by a vote of 4 to 1, with Commissioner Tom Ramsey, R–Precinct 3, as the lone dissenter.

Harris County is advancing a program similar to universal basic income pilots being launched in Democratic-run cities nationwide. However, its 18-month program uses $20.5 million out of a $915 million COVID-19 federal relief fund to send some residents a $500 check a month with no strings attached. Despite the federal relief fund requiring money be spent on coronavirus-related programs, these payments will have nothing to do with the coronavirus.

In April 2021, a group of 43 Democratic mayors nationwide launched a new group called “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income,” (MGI). They argued that “economic security isn’t a new challenge or a partisan issue” and the way to end or reduce poverty was to guarantee a certain level of income to low-income residents with no strings attached.

Outgoing Democratic Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was among them. Turner has been pushing for such a plan for over two years.

By last September, universal income programs had launched in multiple states. By last December, some economists argued such a program should eventually replace multiple federal subsidies offered through various welfare programs.

The 1,500 Harris County residents receiving the $500 checks are likely already beneficiaries of multiple welfare programs because the county pilot program only applies to those living at 200% below the poverty level in the county’s poorest 10 zip codes.

Charles Blain, president of Houston-based Urban Reform and the Urban Reform Institute, said, “The American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds were intended to aid local governments in addressing the immediate needs caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. ARPA funding was intended to bridge the gaps of wage and revenue loss, increased expenses and other associated costs incurred by COVID 19, but local governments have relied on these one-time sources to test pet projects and create unsustainable programs that will either go away or fall on the backs of local taxpayers once federal funds run out.

“And while this use might be legal, it certainly violates the spirit of the Act and is why people are distrustful of their government institutions. The guaranteed income pilot program wasn’t important enough for Harris County to plan for and build room in its general fund budget to fund, but it’s important enough for them to use COVID 19 emergency aid three years after the start of the pandemic and months after the end of it to create?”

He also argues the $500 payments are a “Bandaid to a much more serious problem” that hasn’t been resolved by the massive expansion of government programs that have already spent billions of taxpayer funded subsidies.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed out last year that “over the last decade, local government budgets in the city of Houston and in Harris County increased faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them as measured by the rate of population growth plus inflation. Families, employers, employees, and job seekers have paid a price for this unnecessary growth of government.”

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