This is no austerity program. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff went on television and radio Sunday night with a Mother’s Day message for the nation. She announced a new government subsidy program that aims to raise families living on less than 70 Brazilian reais (US$ 35) per month with children under the age of six out of abject poverty.
The elimination of this lowly social group by 2014, officially called “extremely poor,” and numbering over 16 million according to the government statistical bureau (IBGE), was a campaign promise.
Called Tender Brazil (Brasil Carinhoso), the program focus is the very young. Besides benefit payments to families, it will build day care centers, increase funding for school lunch programs, and provide the very young with vitamins and nutritional supplements.
According to Dilma, Tender Brazil is an example of the government perfecting income distribution policies and strengthening the social safety net to protect the most vulnerable Brazilians.
“These measures will reverse the absurd situation where a mother, with the transcendental function of generating life, and a child, representing the future, are subject to disease and abandonment, the evils and baleful effects of extreme poverty,” declared the president.
“This is effective and important action on the very frontline of combat against childhood poverty and, at the same time, an affirmation of the Brazilian government’s sense of duty and its commitment to care for children. It is also recognition of the fact that children, people, are the country’s most precious wealth,” said Dilma.
In practical terms, the new program will expand Bolsa Família (Family Allowance) subsidies to ensure that each person in a family with at least one child under the age of six gets 70 reais per month.
These supplemental payments, according to the Ministry of Social Development, will benefit two million families immediately and have an overnight positive impact on about 40% of those in the extremely poor tier of society, said the minister of Social Development, Tereza Campello.
Two million families with at least three people in each is six million people, which works out to around 40% of the 16 million people living in extreme poverty. “Families will be strengthened. There will be a generalized impact on people of all ages living in poverty,” declared the minister.
President Dilma went on to elucidate the overarching program goal: “This program will provide these families with a minimum guaranteed income of R$ 70. And when we ensure a minimum income for each member of a family that lives in extreme poverty, what we are doing is recognizing that the only way to remove a child from misery is to remove the family from misery,” explained the president.
Tender Brazil has plans for the construction of 1,512 day care centers and an increase of 66% in funding for child education school lunch programs.
At the local level, city officials will be encouraged to enroll children in school whose families are Bolsa Família beneficiaries. The city will receive an annual payment of R$ 1,363 (US$ 683) per student.
Finally, Tender Brazil will expand school health programs in day care centers and pre-schools, ensuring that children get iron and vitamin A in their diets, along with providing free medicine for children with asthma. The total outlay for the new program between now and 2014 is estimated at 10 billion reais.
In her speech, on Mother’s Day, president Rousseff cited the crisis in Europe, pointing out that the situation there was raising questions about some economic models. She made the point that Brazil continued to invest in social development and welfare in efforts based on the belief that economic growth had to go hand in hand with the reduction of inequality.
“We are proud of this social focus. It has allowed us to move along a path of economic development where broad and undeniable social justice is part of the process,” concluded the president.