Bolsonaro proposes 50-percent bump to renowned cash-transfer program

bolsa familia bump bolsonaro
President Jair Bolsonaro next to House Speaker Arthur Lira. Photo: Cleia Viana/CD/CC-BY 4.0

President Jair Bolsonaro visited the Congress building this morning, presenting House Speaker Arthur Lira — one of his closest allies — with a provisional decree to increase the Bolsa Família cash-transfer program by 50 percent. The piece of legislation would also change the name of the flagship program created in 2003, during the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva years.

The new Bolsa Família would be called “Auxílio Brasil” (literally, Brazil Aid). 

Mr. Bolsonaro was once a fierce critic of Bolsa Família, equating it to a cash-for-votes scheme, due to Lula’s massive popularity among poorer classes who were reached by the program. During his first year in office, Mr. Bolsonaro downsized Bolsa Família, but facing plummeting approval ratings, he seems to have made a U-turn.

Interestingly, Lula himself bashed social programs (like aid for the purchase of milk and the distribution of food products) before becoming president — saying it led people to think with their stomach instead of their head. He has since become a champion of cash-transfer policies.

To pay for the new bump in handouts, Mr. Bolsonaro is proposing the government postpone repayments of IOUs amounting to BRL 90 million.

“We longed for this proposal,” said Speaker Lira. “Congress will analyze it as soon as possible.”