State Sen. Paul Bettencourt during a debate in the Senate Chamber in Austin.
A Texas state senator said a Texas-based basic income plan will “hand out money like popcorn.”State Sen. Paul Bettencourt asked the state attorney general to declare it unconstitutional.The Houston-area plan to give $500 to needy families began taking applications last month.
A state senator continues to attack guaranteed basic income plans after a Houston-area program announced it would deliver $500 a month to some of the region’s poorest residents.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, sent a letter to the state’s attorney general in January asking him to declare the Harris County income plan unconstitutional.
Bettencourt’s request came on the same day that the program — called Uplift Harris — started taking applications. The Uplift Harris program plans to provide eligible households in Harris County, which includes Houston, $500 a month for up to 18 months.
County officials used more than $20 million of federal COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Plan to fund the project.
The program received more than 76,000 applicants, according to The Houston Chronicle. As applications for the program closed on Friday, Bettencourt appeared on Fox News to further voice his unhappiness with the program.
“We just can’t hand out money like popcorn on street corners to people that walk by,” Bettencourt told Fox.
Bettencourt argued in his letter that Uplift Harris violates the Texas Constitution’s “gift prohibition” clause that says the state legislature cannot authorize any “county, city, town, or other political subdivision of the state” to grant public money to any individual.
Bettencourt told the outlet that comparing Austin’s guaranteed income program, which gave $1,000 a month to low-income families, is like comparing “apples to oranges” because Harris County is enacting its program on the county level rather than the city level.
“The point I’m making about counties involved with universal basic income is that it hasn’t happened before,” Bettencourt told Fox. “We don’t have anyone else in the state besides Harris doing that. And counties are different than home-rule cities. The state gives [counties] the authority as an extension of the state to do certain tasks.”
Christian Menefree, an attorney for Harris County, responded to Bettencourt’s claims in a brief to the state attorney general on Friday, arguing that the program does not violate the gift clause, according to Houston Public Media.