Harris County Commissioners have approved a pilot program to provide a guaranteed income to residents of some of the county's poorest neighborhoods. The program will use federal COVID funding to provide $500 a month for 18 months to residents earning up to twice the federal poverty level.
The vote to create the program was 4-1 along party lines.
On Monday, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the more than $20.5 million pilot program, and said it could address the region's economic inequality.
Hidalgo said Houston is the second-fastest growing region in the nation, and has over 3.3 million jobs. She said that number is also growing.
"But the reality of it, not every resident is experiencing extraordinary economic growth," she said. "One in six people in Harris County live at or below the poverty line."
Uplift Harris, or the Family Financial Stability and Income Program, would provide low-income families with direct financial support for rent, groceries, transportation, housing and utilities, and care.
Harris County Public Health's Executive Director, Barbie Robinson, said financial stability is a determinant of health and wellbeing.
"And so we're grateful for this opportunity to really move the needle to address not just economic opportunity for individuals, but really breaking the cycle of generational poverty," she said.
Under the program, up to 1,500 families living below 200% of the federal poverty line– that's an annual income of about $40,000 for a family of four– will receive $500 a month to support household needs.
Other counties in the nation have created similar pilot programs in the past, although many of them provided more money for participating families.
"It's a big investment," said Commissioner Rodney Ellis. "We did not invest as much as (Los Angeles) County. LA County is 10 million people. We're about the size as Cook County. Not quite as much as Cook County."
Ellis said LA County raised their funds through philanthropic money and Cook County was through the American Rescue Plan Act, similar to how Harris County's program will be funded.
"So we're very appreciative to the Biden-Harris administration for giving us this opportunity and making ARPA funds available to do this," Ellis said.
However, the program could face legal challenges due to HB 2127, otherwise known as the Death Star Bill, a new law that preempts counties' ability to pass regulations.
"There is a lack of clarity around the bill from the legislature and what it actually does," The office of Commissioner Ellis said in a statement. "We're not going to let that stop us from fighting for the people of Harris County and moving forward with policies that serve them."
The pilot program is planned to begin in September and would run for 18 months.
This story was updated on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 to show the the Harris County Commission passed the program.
Andrew Schneider contributed to this report.