President Lula reformulates the successful Bolsa familia program to combat poverty in Brazil | International | The USA Print

President Lula embraces Isamara Mendes, a former Bolsa Família user, this Thursday in Brasilia, during the presentation of the news of this payment against poverty.EVARISTO SA (AFP)

Bolsa Família, the most emblematic anti-poverty program of the progressive governments of Brazil, recovers that name – the original one, with which it achieved international fame – and reinstates a series of requirements that the beneficiaries did not need to meet while the extreme right governed. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva presented this Thursday in Brasilia the details of the monthly payment received by some 22 million poor families. The reformulated Bolsa Família has two parents: Lula, who now again demands that children go to school, be vaccinated and that pregnant women undergo prenatal check-ups and adds a supplement for each minor child, and former president Jair Bolsonaro, who increased to 600 reais per family (108 euros, 115 dollars) an amount that is now maintained.

President Lula stressed that Bolsa Família “is not a program of a government, of a president of the republic, it is of Brazilian society. And it will only work if it is controlled by society”. At the presentation ceremony, held in Brasilia, the president shared the limelight with Isamara Mendes, a young university doctorate who told how the pay offered her family unthinkable opportunities until then.

Lula has created the new Bolsa Família and two supplementary payments via a decree that must be endorsed by Congress. Families will receive an additional 150 reais for each child up to the age of six, and 50 reais for each child between 7 and 18 years of age. And it is once again mandatory to meet a series of requirements that contributed to notable improvements in infant mortality and school enrollment rates.

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Bolsa Família revolutionized the lives of Brazilians who did not have money for even the most basic needs. It was one of the key public policy instruments that managed to lift millions out of extreme poverty and out of poverty. And also with the advantage that it was effective and, at least until the pandemic, also cheap. It was 0.5% of GDP. With this investment, a fifth of the beneficiaries prospered until they no longer needed the help, according to a study by the Brazilian Institute of Mobility and Social Development published by Folha de S. Paulo a year ago.

As Bolsa Família began to bear fruit, it became the great electoral brand of Lula and the Workers’ Party. For this reason, one of Bolsonaro’s first decisions was to rename it. Help Brazil was called. Despite the ups and downs with the name, the amount was consolidated thanks to political opportunism and the pandemic.

The country model that Lula and Bolsonaro proposed to their compatriots in the last electoral campaign could hardly be more antagonistic. A single point in common stood out among a tangle of diametrically opposed proposals: the 600 reais monthly pay for the most needy Brazilians, families who live on up to 218 reais per head (less than $40). In his race to the presidency, both the leftist and the far-right promised from minute one to maintain an amount that was the result of a decided increase in the heat of the pandemic —Bolsonaro and Congress tripled what was paid before the coronavirus— and kept the 600 reais for electoral reasons with parliamentary maneuvers to curry favor with the poorest voters, an electorate traditionally loyal to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT).

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It did not work for Bolsonaro to win the elections. Among other reasons, because a brief stoppage in payments, vital for millions of families to be able to eat and the most basic things, caused the beneficiaries’ distrust in him to skyrocket. Lula never even considered, at least in public, going back to the pre-pandemic amount because there are 33 million Brazilians who suffer from hunger and because it would have been political suicide.

The Government has spent two months scrutinizing the list of beneficiaries that, according to the complaint, Bolsonaro gained weight in search of votes. The idea is to throw out fraudulent users so that 700,000 families that are on the waiting list can enter.

Proof of Bolsa Família’s embedded political value is that Lula decided to leave the jewel in the crown in the hands of one of his own, a prominent PT figure with broad support in the poorest Brazil. Wellington Dias, former governor of Piauí, one of the poorest states and with the proportionally highest rate of users of the program, is the current Minister of Social Development. The former presidential candidate and now Lula’s minister, center-right Simone Tebet, would have wanted the portfolio but the PT considered it too flashy a showcase that could boost her chances in an upcoming election, so she was sent to an area with weight but much more gray, the Ministry of Planning.

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