The revamping of the Bolsa Família program is considered Jair Bolsonaro’s (non-party) silver bullet to regain his popularity just over a year before the presidential election.
The government promises to increase the average value of the benefit, from R$ 190 to up to R$ 400, and its coverage, from 14.7 million to 17 million families.
O Brazil in fact heard specialists to assess the impact of these changes, which are still pending approval by the National Congress.
The readjustment in the value of the installments is considered positive, since the emergency aid – currently, at an average amount of R$ 200 – is insufficient to cover the basic expenses of workers with food and housing.
The central problem of the changes promised by the current government, according to the interviewees, is the scope.
“The reality of the country is that many more people need it. About 2.3 million families are already in the line for Bolsa Família, just as it is. Without emergency aid, the number of beneficiaries should be increased by at least 7 million to have a significant impact”, assesses Leandro Teodoro Ferreira, president of the Brazilian Basic Income Network (RBRB) and Master in Public Policy from the Federal University of ABC ( UFABC).
“No one who is concerned about social protection will be against an increase in the number of beneficiaries and in the value of Bolsa Família. However, the numbers cited by the president and his ministers reflect a very small number of people”, he adds.
Popular movements are pressing for the readjustment to be higher than the period’s inflation. In July 2014, for example, the average benefit amount was R$169. With the mere update by INPC [Índice Nacional de Preços ao Consumidor], the value would already jump to R$ 250.
There is a lack of clarity about values
Today, those entitled to Bolsa Família are families with monthly income of up to R$89 per person (extreme poverty) and between R$89.01 and R$178 per person (poverty).
The plan is to increase the extreme poverty range to R$100 and poverty to around R$200. It is precisely this change that would lead to the inclusion of new beneficiaries.
It is not clear, so far, who would be entitled to benefits above R$ 400 per month, increasing the average for the program. The economic team is even studying to allocate the highest amounts only to workers with a formal contract, as a supplement to their income. The idea would be to stimulate the search for work – in a country with 14.8 million unemployed.
Interlocutors from Bolsonaro affirm that the name of the program should be changed, as part of a strategy to disassociate it from the management of the Workers’ Party (PT). A registered trademark of the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), Bolsa Família has reduced extreme poverty by around 25% in the country since 2003.
Under Bolsonaro, the program is to be renamed Auxílio Brasil.
For at least five years, the pace of confronting hunger and poverty in the country has slowed down. According to the 2017-2018 Family Budget Survey (POF), food insecurity increased by 33.3% compared to 2003 and 62.2% compared to 2013. In other words, the situation was already worse than at the beginning of the Lula government.
The pandemic aggravated this scenario. According to data from the Research Group Food for Justice: Power, Policy and Food Inequalities in the Bioeconomy, from Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, 125.6 million Brazilians suffered from food insecurity in 2020.
from promise to reality
Court decisions that increase mandatory government spending with states and municipalities for 2022 have been delaying the reformulation of Bolsa Família.
For now, the 2.3 million increase in the number of beneficiaries and the readjustment in the average amount to up to R$400 monthly are just promises.
To guarantee these changes, the federal government needs to make room in the budget.
The government’s main bet is a Proposal for Amendment to the Constitution (PEC) that allows expenditure on court sentences to be spread over ten years, circumventing the “spending ceiling”.
Matias Cardomingo, a Master in Economic Theory from the University of São Paulo (USP), says that the government’s willingness to find ways to expand the Bolsa Família is the result of pressure from society.
“We have to fight for that [o reajuste para R$ 400] is implemented. Because when it arrives at Congress and the lobby of the forces that support this government begin to act, we have already seen the dismantling and dehydration of the proposals happen”, he warns.
“The government was constrained by circumstances and society to present an expansion of the program. We have to seize the moment because, in fact, an increase in value and scope, even if insufficient, is an advance”, adds Cardomingo, who is part of USP’s Research Center in Macroeconomics of Inequalities (Made).
Last Tuesday (3), the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), contradicted Bolsonaro and stated that the average amount of R$ 400 is unfeasible.
The president of RBRB defends that there is transparency and popular participation in decisions about the application of the budget that will be made available for 2022. In addition to a basic income, the population needs quality public services and access to basic rights, provided for in the Constitution, which come being denied.
“The government needs to point out how it is going to use the tools that already exist within the fiscal rules that they themselves are defending, such as the ‘Spending ceiling’. There will be at least R$ 40 billion more to spend freely, and a discussion needs to be opened about how this should be used in social policies”, analyzes Ferreira.
“What Brazil needs is democracy in the discussion about which social policies should be adopted. Whether it is a new Bolsa Família or anything that is done in health and education, if this is not agreed with someone who understands the subject or is a beneficiary of these policies, the country will not move forward, even if this is on the agenda of the speech of the government”, he concludes.
Edition: Vivian Virissimo