What does the Bolsa Família Program mean for Brazil?

What does the Bolsa Família Program mean for Brazil?
Fecha de publicación: 
31 January 2023
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Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced last week the resume of the Bolsa Família Program, a program helped millions of Brazilians years ago, until it was shut down by former president Jair Bolsonaro.

It is, according to the definition of the Inter-American Development Bank, a program of conditional monetary transfers with national coverage "which aims to support families in situations of poverty or extreme poverty, as well as expanding access to education and health services."

It originated in 2003, under the first term of the governance of the Workers' Party (PT) and Lula da Silva, who sought, since his arrival at the Planalto Palace, the reduction of inflation, the reduction of external debt, the macroeconomic contribution, the increase in growth and containment of neoliberalism. In this sense, he launched the Bolsa Família Program, after the unification of a series of pre-existing social benefits. Shielded by law in January 2004 and later integrated into the Brazil Without Extreme Poverty Plan, it became one of the most emblematic social policies of the PT.

A publication from Brazil's Institute of Applied Economic Research noted that in 2017 Bolsa Família "lifted 3.4 million people out of extreme poverty and another 3.2 million out of poverty." Other studies also attribute positive effects on health and education, since it led to a decrease in infant mortality and an increase in school attendance and the height of children, thanks to the improvement in their nutrition.

It is worth mentioning that, despite its wide coverage, the initiative was characterized by having a low cost for the public budget, in relation to the Gross Domestic Product of the South American Giant. In 2014, it was recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as one of Brazil's main strategies to overcome hunger.

An article in the Spanish Journal of Public Health affirms that Bolsa Família is the most important initiative of its kind globally and adds that, despite its complexity —derived from size and other administrative and management issues—, it presents some characteristics “extrapolated to other realities.”

Despite its proven results, Bolsonaro terminated it in 2021, when he promoted, instead, Auxilio Brasil. In practice, his alternative was marked by uncertainties and failures from the start, according to press reports. For some analysts, Auxilio Brasil was nothing more than an attempt by the ruling right-wing to whitewash his image before the elections, at a time of frank unpopularity.

On the other hand, Bolsa Família is a significant example of what can be done when there is political will to manage resources in order to alleviate social problems. With Lula's announcement, he awakens the hope of millions of Brazilians. The reopening of Bolsa Família implies a new opportunity for the South American Giant and its people.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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