Bolsa Família- The World’s Largest Conditional Cash Transfer Program
. Bolsa Familia is a social welfare, conditional cash transfer program (CCT) in Brazil that aims to provide financial assistance to the poor.
In the 1980s Brazil was the world's second-most unequal country in terms of income. Its Gini coefficient -- kept on rising until 1993, when it stood at 59.5, after which it started to decline, reaching 56.4 in 2004. This is still a high figure: European countries generally score in the 20s or low 30s, and the US in the 40s.” With this in mind, Bolsa Familia was introduced in 2003 by left-wing president Lula Da Silva to combat the high levels of poverty, inequality, and hunger that plagued the country. CCT’s give money to the poor on the condition that the families follow specific behaviors such as getting their kids vaccinated, making sure they attend school, etc., essentially increasing income in the short run and human capital in the long run. From 2003-2010 Bolsa Familia became the world’s largest CCT. It became fairly successful; according to The Economist, more than 30 million people were lifted out of poverty from 2003-2014 thanks to the program. Zé Raimundo Santos, president of the agricultural co-operative said that, “you don’t see kids working in the fields anymore,” with kids spending more time at school. It is also fairly inexpensive as it only costed Brazilian taxpayers less than 0.5 percent of the country’s $2.3 trillion GDP in 2010. According to a research article by Global Public Health, evidence indicates a relationship between Bolsa Familia and reduction of child mortality, increase in access to Primary Health Care services, increased access to food, higher school attendance, and reduced dropout.
However, the 2014 recession hit the country’s poor population extremely hard. GDP per capita dropped 10% by 2016 and unemployment almost doubled, backtracking the success of Bolsa Familia. Then in 2019, when right-winged president Jair Bolsanaro took office, he heavily criticized the program. Critics of Bolsonaro claim he is indifferent to poverty, once calling the people who receive Bolsa Familia payments “ignorant wretches”. In 2019, his office also slowed the number of people accepted into the program with numbers of families accepted dropping from 275,000 a month to 2,500, with an increased 1 million no longer receiving benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people were also put on waiting lists. In 2020, the World Bank issued out a $1 billion loan that expanded the Bolsa Familia program in the face of COVID-19, helping 3 million Brazilians. The project seeks to “mitigate the negative economic effects associated with COVID-19 on income and risks of damaging human capital of poor families. The project will finance approximately 23 months of the Bolsa Família conditional cash transfer program expansion, starting in the first quarter of 2021.” However, no one expected Brazil to get hit with a second, harder wave of the pandemic; which is what is happening right now, mainly due to Bolsonaro downplaying the virus and vaccine efforts. Although Bolsonaro did initiate an emergency cash transfer program that helped millions of people in 2020, the money was cut back this year in fears of a debt crisis, nearly doubling the amount of people who have gone hungry in 2018 as a result, according to the New York Times. Despite recent issues, Bolsa Familia has proved to be the most successful poverty reduction program in Brazil.
David is a student at Davidson college. He is currently studying Economics and is going into his Junior year