‘It burst my bubble’: Uplift Harris recipient reacts to TX Supreme Court blocking funds

HOUSTON – The Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency stay, blocking Harris County’s guaranteed income program from taking effect and releasing funds. One recipient shared how he was hoping to secure housing with the payment.

Standing in the back of Harris County’s new Commissioners Courtroom, Robert Holley looked on as Judge Lina Hidalgo brought the commissioners back in order after an executive session.

He watches on as Hidalgo announces the county is moving forward with its pilot guaranteed income program, Uplift Harris.

“We’ve decided to do nothing which means the program will proceed,” Hidalgo said, “No court has blocked the county from sending out the payment. Given that the state is so focused at this we’re going to have to take it one payment at a time.”

Holley smiled ear to ear. The check isn’t in his account, but he knows how he plans to spend it.

“Tomorrow is a new start,” Holley said. “Fresh start.”

RELATED: TX Supreme Court blocks $500 monthly payments after Ken Paxton files appeal against Uplift Harris

The 68-year-old shares with KPRC 2′s Rilwan Balogun he had been in talks to secure housing.

“How has your housing been since? Before this,” Balogun asked.

“Terrible. It has been,” Holley said. “When I have the money, motels. When I don’t—the street.”

Holley is one of 1,928 households selected for Uplift Harris. Holley and the other recipients live in the county’s poorest neighborhoods. Those chosen would be given $500 a month for 18 months to do as they wish, no strings attached.

MORE INFO ON UPLIFT HARRIS: $500 monthly payments scheduled for Wednesday through Uplift Harris remain in limbo despite judge siding with county

Roughly 30 minutes after Hidalgo’s announcement, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency stay, blocking the release of the funds.

“Without regard to the merits, the Court grants an administrative stay as follows: Real parties in interest and their agents are prohibited from making payments under the Uplift Harris program pending further order of this Court,” said a statement the high court released.

Earlier in the day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the court to intervene after two lower courts stopped Paxton’s effort at blocking the program.

Paxton sued the county earlier this month calling the program “plainly unconstitutional.” He argued Uplift Harris violates a part of the Texas Constitution.

“Harris County officials cannot continue to abuse their power and the people’s money to score political points, and we will fight every step of the way to hold them accountable,” Paxton said in a press release. “I’m pleased the Supreme Court of Texas has blocked Harris County from disbursing these unlawful payments. I look forward to continuing to defend our Constitution and preventing this egregious misuse of taxpayer money.”

“Our public health director pressed the button, so to speak, but before the funds started transferring the supreme court made its ruling,” Hidalgo said. “It’s disappointing, honestly, to see them jump in just to even stop a first payment.”

The justices give the county until next Tuesday, April 29th, to respond to the motion.

“The court has basically paused everything so they can consider Attorney General Paxton’s motion to consider relief and his writ of mandamus filing,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said at a Tuesday press conference.

While his office will respond, Menefee wasn’t optimistic, citing one of the justices railing against the county in the past.

“It is astonishing that Harris County would get sued for this but the City of San Antonio, the City of Austin, and in fact El Paso County, which is a county, adopted their program late last year, has not been sued about it,” Menefee said.

Last week, South Texas College of Law-Houston Professor Charles “Rocky” Rhodes said the issue at hand is whether the program, in the way it’s used, operates against the state constitution.

“While home-rule cities such as Austin and El Paso have more self-governance authority under the Texas Constitution than counties such as Harris County, the question, in this case, is whether Uplift Harris [and similar programs] conflict with the state constitutional prohibition against providing gratuitous private benefits that applies to all levels of state government,” Rhodes said.

Donning a hat honoring Buffalo Soldiers, the mostly Black Army regiments during the Civil War, Holley lowered his head when Balogun read him the Texas Supreme Court’s notice.

“So, that means nothing?” Holley asked. “Well, it’s politics. [Paxton] got to the supreme court.

“It burst my bubble. Deflated my air balloon, and I just have to wait and see what happens on the 29th at the end of the month,” said Holley.

It’s not clear where Holley will spend the night.

“I will continue on,” Holley said. “This is definitely a rollercoaster ride.”


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