Cadastro Unico: Behind the Scenes of Bolsa Familia

Targeting is a key issue in any social welfare program, and Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program is no exception. As the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, the Brazilian government has worked hard to ensure the beneficiaries are among the poorest in society. This effort has been recognized by the World Bank, which called Bolsa familia “the best targeted CCT [conditional cash transfer] scheme in Latin America.”[1] Bolsa Familia owes much of its targeting success to Cadastro Unico, a single registry that has consolidated data on Brazil’s most vulnerable and has enabled Brazil to expand and improve its social welfare system. This database now contains information on 40% of Brazilian families,[2] and is used by Bolsa Familia, Literate Brazil, Minha Casa Minha Vida and a wide range of other social assistance programs.

First introduced in 2001 by President Cardoso, Cadastro Unico was significantly strengthened in 2003 when Bolsa Familia consolidated four separate cash transfer programs under one name. The system has continued to develop, and in 2010 an online version, Cadunico, was launched.[3] With the goal of increasing efficiency, improving targeting of social assistance programs, and increasing the knowledge and understanding of Brazil’s low-income population to facilitate the design of targeted policies, Cadastro Unico is an essential tool for social policy.[4]

Local governments, the federal government and the public bank, Caixa Economica Federal play distinct roles in implementing Bolsa Familia. Local governments identify vulnerable families, collect socioeconomic data through questionnaires, house visits and interviews, and enter the information into the registry.[5] This data includes everything from the geographic location of the household, access to public services (water, electricity, sanitation), household incomes and education levels of each family member.[6] Currently, there are 5570 local governments collecting data for the registry.[7]

While local municipalities participate in data collection, the federal government, through the Ministry of Social Development (MDS), oversees the registry, defines eligibility requirements and cross-checks data within the registry.[8] MDS has defined eligibility criteria based on self-reported incomes. Lastly, Caixa Economica Federal, a public bank chosen to oversee the registry, holds responsibility for managing the database, assigning identification numbers to families and disbursing benefit payments. With the combined work of these actors, Caixa successfully distributes 13.8 million payments a month to Bolsa Familia recipients, an impressive number of transactions for any agency to oversee.[9]

While critics of big government often point to inefficiency as a huge drawback, Brazil has modeled what an efficient system might look like. While far from perfect, Cadastro Unico is a significant step towards efficiently managing large-scale social welfare programs and targeting populations most in need. As a central piece of Brazil’s overarching social program, Brasil sem Misereria, the single registry system will continue to play a significant role in coordinating the many policies focused on ending poverty in Brazil.

Corey Ackerman
MPP ’16

[1] Hall, Anthony. “Brazil’s Bolsa Familia: A Double Edged Sword?” Development and Change. 2008.

[2] Silveira, Fernando Gaiger. “The Single Registry for the Social Programs of the Brazilian Federal Government.” May 2013.

[3] Curralero, Claudia Baddini. “Single Registry for Social Policies Cadastro Unico.” The World Bank.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lindert, Kathy and Anja Linder, Jason Hobbs and Benedicte de la Briere. “The Nuts and Bolts of Brail’s Bolsa Familia Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context.” The World Bank. May 2007.

[6] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[7] Van Langenhove, Thibault. “Cadastro Unico-Operating a Registry through a National Public Bank.” International Labour Office. 2014.

[8] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[9] Van Langenhove, Thibault.


Drought and Recession Lead to Downsizing of 2015 Carnaval

The millions of spectators that flock to Brazil to revel in the nation’s famous carnaval, scheduled to begin Friday, February 13th, may be disappointed to learn that this year’s festivities have been downsized, or cancelled altogether in many localities. Amid concerns of Brazil’s ongoing drought, at least 15 cities and towns in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais and Sao Paolo have already called off all or parts of the carnaval festivities.[1] Though the carnaval will go on in Sao Paulo, many city counselors have advocated for its cancellation. Brasilia, the nation’s capital, will not host a carnival parade this year. Given the immense proportions and cultural significance of the carnaval, these measures are a huge blow to the Brazilian people.

The drought, which has been ongoing for the last year and is being reported as the worst in nearly a century, has left millions short of drinking water, withered crops, and cause blackouts in many areas.[2] Brazil’s southeast region is the most adversely affected by the drought; it is also the nation’s wealthiest and most densely populated area. Conditions have worsened over the past few weeks as the southern hemisphere experiences the peak of the summer months.

Measures to downsize or cancel carnaval activities are an effort to reduce the strain of tourists visiting areas that are already strapped for water and to reduce or eliminate the usage of water during the street festivities. Traditionally, the giant parade floats created for the carnaval often use water features to enhance the floats. Cognizant of the water shortage, samba schools performing during the Rio carnaval have already made modification to their floats. Unidos do Viradouro, a participating samba school that will exhibit a 160-foot float honoring Brazil’s African heritage, revised its plan to have the float’s two water fountains spew 10,500 gallons of water continuously, to just 2,600 gallons intermittently.[3] The float paraded by the União de Ilha do Governador samba school will create the effect of a gushing water fountain with lights and smoke, replacing the water it had planned to use. The schools hope these measures will demonstrate their sensitivity to the water shortage problem and motivate citizens to conserve water.

Financial woes have also played a role in the downsizing of the 2015 carnaval. Several of the blocos, popular street bands that can attract over 100,000 people, have had to cancel their events this year, citing a lack of sponsors who are willing to provide basic infrastructure for the popular events’[4] TV Globo, Brazil’s most prominent broadcaster has pulled out of a substantial part of its regular carnaval coverage, including the final Parade of Champions, citing a lack of sponsors. Without the support of media partners, broadcasting the full two days of parading and the grand finale was simply not unviable.[5] Some have cited the upcoming 2016 Olympics to be at fault for cuts to carnaval expenditure.

At a time when political leaders have attempted to downplay the severity of the water crisis in Brazil, downsizing the carnival could prove an embarrassment to the federal government, which has demonstrated years of ineptitude and negligence in water management.[6]

Analidis Ochoa-Bendaña
MPP ’15







Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

What’s the deal with Petrobras?

While Brazil’s obsession with the growing Petrobras scandal has existed for almost a year, the international community is just now starting to ramp up media coverage. To understand the implications of this scandal, it is important to know the history of Petrobras in Brazil and its essential role in Brazil’s economic growth. The scandal symbolizes Brazil’s current sluggish economy and the people’s growing anger at corporate/business cabals.

Petrobras, founded over 60 years ago in 1953, was a state-backed company that held a monopoly on Brazil’s oil production and exploration until 1997 when the government allowed competition (both to international and Brazilian companies). Despite the new competition, Petrobras had a strong starting position and continued to grow. It is currently the sixth largest energy company by assets in the world.[1] Much of this growth came from its exploration of deep-water oil reserves in the Santos Basin. Although Petrobras is not the only oil company, it still is a large employer of Brazilian citizens and a major component of the economy.

The Petrobras scandal, named “Operation Car Wash,” has embroiled top executives at nine Brazilian construction companies, engineering firms, and even international shipbuilders, not to mention Petrobras leaders and Brazilian politicians as high up as President Dilma Rousseff. Petrobras executives are alleged to have bribed politicians using company profits, Additionally, construction, engineering, and shipbuilding companies are alleged to have paid Petrobras executives bribes for contracts. Over 40 politicians received a 3% commission on Petrobras contracts signed between 2004 and 2012 according to chief police witness and ex-Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa.

Brazilian Federal Police have indicted 35 people with charges such as corruption, money laundering, organized crime, bribery, and establishing a cabal. The sheer size of the Petrobras corruption allegations is staggering; Federal police estimate as much as $3.9 billion in “atypical financial transactions” were made between 2004-2012.[2] Morgan Stanley estimates the scandal could cut the value of Petrobras by $8.1 billion.[3] Rousseff, former chair of the board of directors during most of the alleged corruption, is caught up in the blowback as well. Despite no official allegations of knowledge or wrongdoing, President Rousseff’s approval ratings hover at 23%, the worst of her career, because of her connection to Petrobras according to a Datafolha poll conducted last week.[4] 77% of voters believe she knew about the corruption when she chaired Petrobras’s Board of Directors, and 60% believe she lied during her presidential campaign about her knowledge of the scandal.[5]

Petrobras’s rise to one of the world’s top companies coincided with Brazil’s growth from a struggling third-world economy to one of the world’s most powerful emerging democracies. These deep roots only make the current scandal more detestable for the Brazilian people – they are not just disgusted by corporate and political greed, they feel personally betrayed by a Brazilian institution. With the variety of challenges facing the Brazilian people (the water crisis in Sao Paulo, stagnating economic growth, and continuing concerns about police violence), the Petrobras scandal symbolizes the leadership’s inability to represent the people effectively.

Lauren Burdette
MPP ’15

[1] Barnato, Katy. “Why the Petrobras scandal is shaking Brazil.” CNBC 24 Nov. 2014

[2] Costas, Ruth. “Petrobras scandal: Brazil’s energy giant under pressure.” BBC News 20 November 2014

[3] Ibid.

[4] Levin, Jonathan. “Petrobras Scandal Drags Rousseff Approval to Record Low.” Bloomberg Business News. 8 February 2015

[5] Ibid.

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Consumption, ‘sumption, what’s your function?

Brazil, as an emerging market economy, has significant and growing global influence in just about every measure. One of those is energy consumption.

In the last ten years, the country’s total consumption of energy has increased by more than a third, due to sustained economic growth.[1] It now ranks behind only the U.S. and Canada among countries in the Americas by level of consumption.[2]

Reducing how much energy is consumed has the same significance as how much energy is produced when it comes to the impacts we care about, from air quality and land conversion to global climate change. Importantly, the political palatability for improving energy efficiency seems greater than anything on the energy production front.

With production, vested interests insist that things stay as they are, and, with power and investment inertia on their side, not much is apt to change. Recently, for example, Brazil discovered large offshore, pre-salt oil deposits that are being tapped for more oil, which already accounts for 41 percent of its total energy production.[3] Meanwhile, wind and solar development using Brazil’s potential capacity remains mostly hypothetical, to the dismay of environmentalists.[4] There is only so much that can be done without power and inertia on your side.

But the discourse around energy consumption is more balanced and rational. If there are ways to reduce consumption without noticeably reducing quality of life, why not explore them? Less energy use means lower costs for businesses, not to mention governments and residents. Competitive advantage demands an open mind.

Recently, multinational IT firm Cisco entered into an agreement with energy firm AES Eletropaulo on the “most innovative Smart Grid project in the country, which AES Eletropaulo has launched in Barueri city, located near São Paulo capital.”[5] The project will reach nearly 250,000 citizens and enable automation of operations, faster identification and correction of grid failures and interruptions, customer tracking of energy consumption, and other possibilities such as renewable energy micro generation and application of differential taxes according to time of consumption.[6]

This pilot project represents an important step forward in Brazil’s energy future, building off a 2000 law that created an “Energy Efficiency Program requiring public power distributors to invest 0.5 percent of operational liquid income in energy efficiency programs, worth roughly USD 160 million per year.”[7]

An article late last year said that Brazil’s commitment to a low-carbon economy will “depend on whether there is enough growth to keep living standards on the rise.”[8] As far as I can tell, that does not need to be the case. Differentiating “between the “survival” emissions of the South and the “luxury” emissions of the North” is unnecessary.[9]

With a GDP still far below that of the U.S., Brazil must of course continue to grow. But with improved energy efficiency, energy consumption can be limited without limiting growth. Such change can result in real benefits for Brazil’s businesses, governmental entities, and residents, not to mention the global climate.

Brendan Hall
MPP/MS ’15

[1] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <;

[2] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <;

[3] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <;

[4] “In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate”. New York Times. 9 December 2014 <;

[5] “AES Eletropaulo Chooses Cisco Technology for the Most Innovative Smart Grid Project in Brazil”. Cisco. 26 November 2014 <;

[6] “AES Eletropaulo Chooses Cisco Technology for the Most Innovative Smart Grid Project in Brazil”. Cisco. 26 November 2014 <;

[7] “Brazil: Minimum Performance Standards and Labeling to Improve Energy Efficiency”. Center for Clean Air Policy.

[8] “In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate”. New York Times. 9 December 2014 <;

[9] “Governing climate change: a brief history”. Chapter 1, page 29.

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

Did the World Cup Boost Brazil’s Economy?

Six years ago, when Brazil successfully bid for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, the country was in an economic boom driven by international commodity demands. The country’s GDP growth rate reached 7.5% in 2010, and overtook the UK to become world’s 6th largest economy in 2011. The Brazilian government expected to receive tourism revenues, increase consumption, add jobs and develop infrastructure by hosting these mega-events.

Meanwhile, mistrust of Brazil’s preparation for the event never stopped. Although the 2014 World Cup turned out to be a ‘big success’, last year Brazil’s economic performance was disappointing. The Brazilian Central Bank said that the annual GDP growth rate was 0.15% based on economists’ prediction.

The World Cup attracted more than 1 million international tourists during the tournament, and about 3 million Brazilians traveled around the country. However, it is hard to reach the conclusion that Brazil’s tourism industry benefited from the event. The number of foreign tourists was stable after the World Cup, and spending of foreign visitors even decreased from August through November, compared to earlier years.

Brazil has many world top attractions, yet the high costs, underdeveloped infrastructure, poor public transit system, language barriers, and violent crimes scare tourists off. The Brazilian Government has spent 15 billion USD for the World Cup, and will spend more on the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the short term, the revenues certainly won’t cover the costs.

Even including the long-term positive impacts, the mega-events could hardly fuel the economy. Most money spent on the World Cup came from government, while the government spending has long been high and limited Brazil’s ability to use fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate economy when the global economy fluctuates again. It was fragile to economic shocks. What happened in 2014 just verified that Brazil has become too dependent on commodities and did not prepare for another economic recession. When the need for commodities of China and EU decreased, Brazil’s growth dropped and Brazilian currency depreciated.

Weiran Zhang
MPP ’15

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.