Responding to Critics Brazil Government Says Expanded Family Allowance Won’t Raise Birth Rate

Bolsa Nutriz to stimulate breast feeding Beginning in November, the Brazilian government’s subsidy program for the poor, Bolsa Família (Family Allowance), will give women in extreme poverty who have babies of less than six months of age a new benefit (“bolsa”), that is called the Bolsa Nutriz (nutrition). The objective of this “bolsa” is to stimulate breast feeding.

And in December, the government will further expand assistance to include pregnant women, Bolsa Gestante, with the objective of stimulating prenatal care.

According to the minister of Social Development and Hunger Combat, Tereza Campello, both new subsidies will be worth 32 reais (US$ 17)each, which is the same amount poor families receive for children below the age of 15.

However, the programs, Bolsa Família, Bolsa Nutriz and Bolsa Gestante, all have a “ceiling:” the payments are limited to five children per family. Campello made the comments during the weekly EBC program, Bom Dia, Ministro, where cabinet members are interviewed. The program is broadcast live on radio and television.

Campello explained that norms for enrolling people in the new programs have not been defined, but that a partnership with the Ministry of Health, enabling Bolsa Nutriz and Bolsa Gestante to use the ministry’s data base for their pregnant woman assistance program (Programa Rede Cegonha – Stork Network Program), is a possibility.

Campello also announced some new numbers: between June and September of this year, 180,000 new families were enrolled in the program. The government’s goal is to enroll 800,000 new families living in extreme poverty by December 2013.

Bolsa Família is a Brazilian government subsidy program for the poor. Families that have a per capita income of up to 140 reais per month (that is, 1,680 reais or US$ 1,000, per year) receive direct payments.

Tereza Campello, minister of Social Development and Hunger Combat, says that the decision to raise the number of children under the age of 15 that a family can receive child subsidies for from three to five, will not mean that poor families will have more children.

“I do not know of any expert or knowledgeable person who believes that expanding a subsidy of 32 reais is going to increase the birth rate. On the contrary, after eight years of Bolsa Família paying child subsidies what we have found is that birth rates have gone down everywhere, including among the poor and the extremely poor,” said the minister.

“Children are not supposed to work, they cannot work, they are to be in school and they must be protected. What is the best way for the government to protect these children? By ensuring that they can eat well so they can do well in school,” declared Campello, adding that rather than increasing the birth rate the expansion would lower extreme poverty rates.

According to the government statistical bureau (IBGE), Bolsa Família benefit payments are made for a total of 22.6 million children who are less than 15 years of age.

“A large part of the extremely poor population consists of children (according to the IBGE, around 40%). It is an easy benefit that is cheap, but has a huge impact on the extremely poor,” concluded the minister.

Besides receiving payments for up to five children under the age of 15, families enrolled in Bolsa Família can receive payment for up to two children aged 16 or 17. Under these provisions, the maximum payment a family can receive from the Bolsa Família program is 306 reais (US$ 163) per month.

According to the Ministry of Social Development, the average payment made by Bolsa Família in April of this year was 96 reais (US$ 51) per month; in September it had risen to 119 reais (US$ 64), an increase of over 24%.

Talking on the EBC radio and television program, Good Morning, Minister, the minister of Social Development and Hunger Combat, Tereza Campello, announced that beginning this week beneficiaries of the Bolsa Família who voluntarily leave the program will be able to return if they have financial problems.

In order to facilitate things and cut the red tape, a former beneficiary will be able to return within 36 months of leaving without the need of going through the enrollment process again.

“We have created this mechanism so we can track and obtain updated information about these families. If they no longer need Bolsa Família, they will inform us with the knowledge that, if their economic situation worsens, they can return automatically,” explained the minister.

Beneficiaries may voluntarily leave the Bolsa Família program by signing a declaration at the local City Hall in the municipality where they live. That will exclude them from active enrollment in the program.

However, they will keep possession of their debit card. To return, all they have to do is go back to City Hall and reactivate their enrollment and their debit card.

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