Bolsa Família


Bolsa Família, the social welfare program that supports Brazil’s most vulnerable families, has won praise worldwide. To better understand this innovative cash transfer program, IEDP spoke with Dr. Ana Clara Duran, postdoctoral research fellow at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bolsa Família is the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, helping 50 million of Brazil’s poorest for just .5% of Brazil’s annual GDP. This intersectorial program is managed by the Ministry of Social Development, administered in conjunction with other ministries, and paid out by Caixa Econômica Federal. It represents the consolidation of a multitude of prior cash transfer programs like Bolsa Alimentação, Auxílio Gás, and Bolsa Educação. This consolidation, and the avoidance of multiple in-kind programs as has been pursued elsewhere, has led to an incredibly efficient, scalable solution. The use of benefit cards has also furthered efficiency and helped to reduce fraud.

To be eligible for the program, a family must have per person income below R$ 77.00 (about $30, U.S.), or below 154.00 (about $60, U.S.) if the family has a child 17 years old or younger, or a pregnant or nursing mother. Once basic eligibility is established, the cash transfer amount varies based on certain criteria about the family composition. The average cash transfer is R$ 176.00 a month (about $70, U.S.) and is capped at R$ 336.00 (about $135, U.S.). While the per-person transfer amount may seem low, the program has had incredible impact.

Dr. Duran’s research reveals a variety of benefits. Around 90% of responsible beneficiaries are women, and 80% of the cash benefit is spent on food, clothing, and school supplies. As a result of Bolsa Família, there has been a 26% increase in achievement of adequate height and weight for impoverished Brazilian youth, and a 17% lower infant mortality rate in poor communities where program adoption has been widespread as compared to similar communities with lower rates of adoption. Rates of malnutrition have dropped 65%, diarrhea 53%, and respiratory disease 20%. 47% of poor pregnant women are more likely to receive properly-timed prenatal care. Vaccination rates and class attendance have markedly increased.

One of the reasons for this impact is that the program is conditional. In order to maintain eligibility, a family must vaccinate their children, get twice-yearly health checkups, and send children and adolescents to school. Schools and health clinics communicate this data back to the government, which maintains a level of accountability. While program participants have conditions that they must meet, this is seen more as an effectuation of the government’s responisbility to its people to strengthen human capital and break inter-generational cycles of poverty.

IEDP Brazil thanks Dr. Duran for a great presentation on a topic of such domestic and international importance. It is clear that Bolsa Família is a working model, and a great tool in the pursuit of poverty alleviation.

Matt McCurdy
JD ’15

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