We just made history: Uplift Harris

08 Jun, 23

Today, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to fund and implement Uplift Harris, a guaranteed income pilot program that will help families rise above poverty and strengthen all of Harris County. This is the first program of its kind in a Texas county and part of our broader strategy to advance economic prosperity for all people.

In the last years of his life, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a guaranteed income to end poverty and make real this country’s promise of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Decades later, the promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite our region’s vast prosperity, we are still facing rampant wealth and income inequality. Decades of neglect, inequity, and discrimination have financially destabilized generations of Harris County families, perpetuated poverty, and created unfair barriers to opportunity.

Working families are struggling to make ends meet without a chance to get ahead. Nearly 9% of Harris County’s workforce— 200,000 people— are “working poor” with a job that doesn’t pay enough to lift them out of poverty and afford basic needs. Nearly one in five Black or Latino residents in our region live below the poverty line. Approximately 8% of Harris County residents—mostly Black and Latino—live in areas of persistent poverty. Unchecked and ongoing inequality has created an economic divide that families can’t overcome on their own, and Harris County has an obligation to act.

The 2023 Houston Area Survey from Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that 63% of respondents believed “too little is being spent on programs and services to support individuals and families experiencing poverty.” This is why Harris County is piloting Uplift Harris to provide an income floor—the stable ground that families need to rise above poverty and build a better life.

Uplift Harris dedicates $20.5 million in ARPA funding to implement the program later this fall. Through Uplift Harris, up to 1,500 families in high-poverty Zip Codes living below 200% of the federal poverty line or those participating in Harris County Public Health’s Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency (ACCESS) program will receive $500 per month for 18 months to help meet basic needs.

Similar programs in other cities and counties have been shown to increase employment and the incentive to work while reducing poverty, housing instability, and food insecurity. But the benefits go even further—families report improvements to their physical and mental health, being able to spend more time with their children, and a greater sense of self-determination when they are trusted with the resources they need to build a better life.

Whether it’s putting food on the table, keeping the lights on, paying for gas, medicine, or whatever else a family needs to make ends meet, a guaranteed income respects a person’s inherent dignity and entrusts them with the economic freedom they deserve and the resources they need to take care of their family.

The ability to live a good, dignified life is at the heart of what Rev. King fought and died for. It’s past time to realize the vision he glimpsed from the mountaintop. We must come together to make right the wrongs caused by economic injustice and ensure all people have the economic stability and freedom they need to live, thrive, and prosper alongside one another as neighbors and equals.