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  5. Houston's basic-income participants plan to spend the $500 a month on rent and groceries — but the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the program

Houston's basic-income participants plan to spend the $500 a month on rent and groceries but the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the program

Allie Kelly,Noah Sheidlower   

Houston's basic-income participants plan to spend the $500 a month on rent and groceries — but the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the program
  • Houston's basic-income program faces shutdown after Texas' attorney general labels it "unconstitutional."
  • The program offers 18 monthly payments of $500 to low-income families for housing and groceries.

When Delwin Sutton learned he had been accepted into a guaranteed basic-income pilot in Houston, he signed a lease on a new apartment.

He spent almost all of his savings on his April rental fees and plans to spend his first $500 basic-income payment from Uplift Harris on rent for May: his new two-bedroom costs him $1,083 a month. He knows the GBI money will help him breathe a little easier.

The 51-year-old works in a warehouse in Harris County, which includes Houston. His hours vary, he said, and he doesn't always make enough to afford rent and groceries for himself and his wife. With GBI, Sutton hopes to become more financially secure and save money for the future.

"It's truly a blessing because people need to understand — when you live paycheck to paycheck, it's horrible," he told Business Insider. "It's almost debilitating."

The program randomly selected 1,928 eligible families out of 82,500 applicants — an acceptance rate lower than Harvard or Yale — for monthly payments, distributing $500 no-strings-attached to help them afford housing and groceries for 18 months.

The program was set to begin payments on Wednesday, but the Texas Supreme Court issued an administrative stay on the program on Tuesday afternoon. The ruling — which comes as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is challenging the program for being "unconstitutional" — will temporarily block Uplift Harris from distributing payments until the Court deliberates further. It is unclear when the state Supreme Court will issue a ruling.

Texas Attorney General's office originally filed suit on April 9 against Harris County, with Paxton calling Uplift Harris an "unlawful" program that "redistributes public money in a manner that violates the Texas Constitution." The filing noted that the state Constitution prohibits public funds from being given away "to benefit individuals." A district judge denied Paxton's request to pause the Houston-area program last Thursday.

Uplift Harris cannot proceed with cash payments as it awaits a decision from the state Supreme Court. For participants, there's a lot at stake.

If the GBI program is shut down completely, Sutton worries he won't have enough money to afford his new apartment. The idea of the program being canceled sends him into "panic mode."

"I'm scared that if I don't get this money, I'm going to be homeless," he said.

Uplift Harris participants hope the program will make them more financially stable

Guaranteed basic income is an increasingly popular solution to combat poverty in US cities. The programs differ from traditional Social Services because participants receive cash to spend as they choose instead of on specific categories. GBI participants have previously told BI that they used the funds to secure housing and food, pay off debt, and afford school supplies for their children.

"We don't tell people that they have to spend the money on anything in particular, we don't put conditions on it," said Dustin Palmer, US country director at GiveDirectly, a nonprofit helping administer the Houston-area pilot. "We really trust people to do what they need, with the cash to get on their feet, or basic needs, whatever they would like to do."

Most applicants live in high-poverty ZIP codes with household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is $31,200 for a family of four. Like some other pilots nationwide, the program received $20.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, which financially supported Americans during the pandemic.

"We've had folks who are in really unstable housing situations who want to use the money to get into stability," Palmer said. "We know from a lot of research that people use the money for rent and housing, as this is a major expense for folks, and those expenses have ballooned."

Jay Carter, 37, told BI he "can't wait" to start receiving his cash payments and plans to use the money to pay for his storage unit and PO box. He is also hoping he can pay for a haircut, his phone bill, and some basic cleaning supplies.

He isn't currently employed and is between apartments. Carter said basic income will help him find financial stability, and he hopes to help his mom pay bills while he temporarily stays with her and applies for housing.

"I can plan my life better," he said. "It's good to see your future 18 months from now — I want to accomplish everything that I need to do."

With the support he gets from Uplift Harris, Carter said he hopes to find secure employment, save money for the future, and work toward affording a car. He might even go back to school, he said.

Texas is a leader in GBI programs, but it still faces political opposition

Texas has been a key state for GBI pilots, with recent programs in Austin and San Antonio. Still, Republican lawmakers continue to challenge the programs, calling them "socialist" and worrying that the money could make low-income families too dependent on the government.

Paxton is opposing the Houston-area program because he said the Texas Constitution prohibits the state's counties and cities from granting public money to aid individuals, especially since the pilot does not limit what participants spend the money on.

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said in a statement that the Texas Supreme Court's decision to temporarily block Uplift Harris is disappointing and shows how politicized the Court has become.

"It's unfortunate the court would take such an extraordinary step to block a program that would help people in Harris County — even temporarily," Menefee said. "The Court knew that the first payments were scheduled to go out tomorrow."

Paxton has not sued other municipalities in Texas that have launched basic-income pilots. The Austin Guaranteed Income Pilot distributed $1,000 monthly to 135 low-income families, many of whom allotted money to housing, food, and other daily costs. San Antonio's basic-income pilot, which reported similar results, gave participants $5,108 total over 25 months. El Paso County also committed to distributing $500 monthly cash payments to about 80 families.

However, Paxton's challenge to the Houston-area program mirrors GOP efforts to ban basic income in other states. The Arizona legislature is currently hearing a bill that could ban GBI, South Dakota Republicans are hoping to prohibit local governments from offering basic income, and Iowa lawmakers banned basic income programs across the state last week.

With the future of Uplift Harris' basic-income program unclear, Sutton said he worries about affording his rent and groceries. He wishes more people understood that — in his financial situation — a little bit of help goes a long way.

"Everybody that asks us for assistance doesn't want it for the rest of their lives like Mr. Paxton is trying to make it seem," Sutton said. "I want to work, I want to be better. If it's taking everything that I have just to survive, I will never be able to be better."

Editor's note: April 23, 2024 — The Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the program shortly after publication. This story has been updated to reflect that development.

Have you benefited from a guaranteed basic income program? Are you willing to share how the money has impacted your life? Reach out to these reporters at and

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