San Antonio/ Politics & Govt
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Published on June 11, 2024
Debate Heats Up in Texas Cities Over Unconditional Cash Programs as San Antonio's "Two-Year Fund" Shows Promising ResultsSource: Google Street View

As cities across Texas grapple with the idea of giving residents money without preconditions, debate rages between those who see this as practical aid and those who view it as fiscal irresponsibility, a glance at San Antonio's "Two-Year Fund" reveals a tale of pragmatic support during a time when the pandemic left many in dire financial straits, Ingrid Sullivan, a beneficiary of the program, found reprieve in the $5,000 she received which allowed her to secure a higher-paying job and provide a stable home for her family, she told The Texas Tribune, "I just ran with the help I had and stabilized my family, and now we are in a very stable position in life."

This no-strings-attached financial assistance approach, piloted by cities such as San Antonio, Austin and El Paso County, collectively disbursed around $9 million to roughly 1,500 households since 2020; however, this strategy has garnered pushback, particularly from conservatives who argue that such direct aid is a misuse of taxpayers’ money, an infringement that could lead to government overreach and an unnecessary expansion of the government's role in individual lives. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken legal measures to halt Harris County's guaranteed income program "Uplift Harris," which aimed to provide $500 monthly for 18 months to nearly 2,000 households, forcing the Texas Supreme Court to pause the pilot pending further litigation.

Proponents of the unconditional cash transfers advocate for the autonomy they provide, allowing individuals to address their most pressing needs, often those that other welfare programs neglect, according to research; Jesús Gerena, CEO of UpTogether, emphasized to The Texas Tribune that "We need to stop thinking that we have to come up with an answer [for] people, but that people have the ability to [come up with answers] themselves."

Despite such purported benefits, critics like James Quintero from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, assert that every dollar allocated to such assistance was siphoned from another taxpayer's pocket, deeming it improper for the government "to simply be a redistributed mechanism that takes from some and gives to others for no good reason," however, research such as that from Mary Bogle at the Urban Institute highlights the cascading positive impacts on children in families receiving direct cash, where increases in household income not only alleviate poverty but bolster future employment prospects for young ones, potentially curtailing welfare dependency across generations.

As the conversation intensifies, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signaled that the use of federal funds by local governments will be a significant topic in the next session’s legislative agenda, signaling that the debate over direct income programs in Texas is nowhere near its conclusion; Sullivan, reflecting on her own experience, suggested that such programs are not a handout but rather a critical lifeline, "A lot of legislation believes you’re given a handout, but really it’s a hand up for the person that already has a plan," she recounted to The Texas Tribune.