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

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.


Land Use and Participatory Programs

On November 7, Professor Pimentel Walker gave a presentation on three distinct participatory government initiatives, their origins and their outcomes on communities.

First, we learned about rural land development initiatives that Professor Pimentel Walker had researched in Porto Alegre. There, efforts to break up large single-owner farms, or latifundios, have taken place for many years. Early advocates of this program were the Landless Workers Movement (MST), as well as the many Brazilian clergymen influenced by Liberation Theology. Initial goals of the program were to expand agribusiness generally (since this was a region with few job opportunities), and increase production of sugarcane for ethanol (a major fuel source in Brazil). Communities are compactly built, so that electrical and other infrastructures are more efficiently provided. 70% of lands are collectively owned, and 30% are individual land titles. The major problem with this program is that, although Brazil’s constitution guarantees a husband and wife equal title on their land, only the 3 single women in Professor Pimentel Walker’s research sample of 70 homes had their names on the title. This had an enormous impact on their financial independence. Hence, Professor Pimentel Walker pushed reforms which would promote joint titling, as well as make access to micro-credit program easier for women. In a region with few economic options, these programs, combined with Bolsa Familia funds, are essential to their economic future.

Second, we learned about how land-use laws attempt to regulate urban areas. The Ministry of Cities is in charge of this task; it would not exist today without the consistent advocacy of groups such as MST. In 2001, the Ministry mandated that all cities with more than 20,000 residents create a Master Plan for land-use. This often includes regulation of the different types of informal housing we had previously learned about, as well as Adverse Possession clauses, whereby squatters who live on land for five years without objection from the owners can gain title to that land. There are also several federal initiatives underway, including Minha casa, Minha vida (My house, My life), and zoning for social housing (ZEIS). Seeking to emulate Bolsa Familia, implementation of Minha casa, Minha vida and other land-use initiatives are incentivized by providing extensive federal funding for projects that include low-income housing. While well received, it is still unclear how much affordable housing these programs will create.

Finally, we heard about participatory budgeting programs that are underway in 500 of Brazil’s 5,000 municipalities. Professor Pimentel Walker studied Porto Alegre’s program, and told us about some of its successes and challenges. Its focus on clear language and direct input from community members has been very well received. Residents of squatter settlements receive a great deal of infrastructure funding through these outlets. Afro-Brazilians also gain a great deal from these programs, though the history of Quilombos (settlements first founded by escaped slaves) means that they rarely present a unified agenda. However, political changes often cause inconsistent funding of the program. Leftist governments typically embrace the program, while conservatives often reject it, to the point of not seeking out guaranteed matching federal funds for projects funded through this process. Again, while this system has been successful in many places, its consistent application in Brazil is still not a reality.

Thank you to Professor Pimentel Walker for her time and insights!

Kyle Olsen
JD/MPP 2018

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.

Urban Housing in Brazil – all about inequality?

The Infamous Brazilian Paradox - favellas overlooking Copacabana beach

After images of Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana Beach, and carnival, Brazil is probably best recognized by images of the shantytowns that surround the country’s expanding cities. This past Wednesday, Joshua Shake, PhD candidate in Urban Planning, enlightened the IEDP group about Brazil’s housing policies and issues that surround accommodating growing populations in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the country’s most populated municipalities.

One can clearly detect Brazil’s struggle with inequality via the country’s housing landscape. Three forms of informal housing settlements are most common in Brazil:

favelas: Irregular settlements built on public or private property (usually in the outskirts) which are illegally occupied by poor families. They are characterized by scant primary and secondary urbanization.

cortiços: Rented housing units mainly made up of a single room, obtained by the repeated  sub-division of houses, particularly in old buildings in the city center. They are characterized by overcrowding and problematic sanitary conditions.

loteamentos: Subdivisions of housing for which builders may not have documents allowing them to build on the lot. Units in these subdivisions are generally occupied by people with modest incomes, yet they don’t always have infrastructural needs.

In Brazil, most housing policies come from the federal level. However each of these informal settlements may be governed by a different level of government (federal, state, local), and the settlements themselves may also be located within each other (i.e. a favela may be found within a loteamento). This further complicates government and public service provider relationships.

The Brazilian government has attempted to address urban housing issues by prioritizing informal settlement areas that are deemed high importance via government criteria. Despite these efforts, the future of urban housing and tackling public housing issues remains a struggle between thoroughly addressing inequality and the country’s desire expand its influence.

Até logo,

PhD/MPP ’16


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.

Brazil’s Presidential Election

Denis Alves Guimarães, a visiting researcher at U of M, gave a talk to the IEDP group on October 29th regarding the recent Brazilian presidential election, including the evolution of the race and how it related to political power structures and priorities in Brazil.

We all come into this course with varying degrees of familiarity with Brazil, so it was appreciated that Mr. Alves began with an introduction to Brazil’s multi-party system. The approximately 30 political parties in Brazil are organized into 3 main coalitions: PT (Worker’s Party) led by Dilma Rouseff, the current president; PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), led by Aécio Neves; and PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party), led by Marina Silva. A unique trait, we learned, of Brazilian parties is the ease with which many politicians switch parties. In fact, Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva were once members of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s PT government (2003-2011).

Brazil’s two-step campaign system, and the uniqueness of this particular race, were explained to us as well. First, PSB’s initial candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on August 13th. His VP candidate Marina Silva took over and made the coalition much more attractive to voters. A former Green Party candidate and the daughter of rubber tappers from the far western state of Acre, she had earned 19% in the 2011 election. Marina’s national name-recognition allowed the PSB, from polling at 8% in early August, to pull even with Dilma Rouseff’s PT at 34% in a poll on September 1st. However, this popularity was not to last, and she came in third in the first round of presidential voting on October 5th.

One reason for this may have been the ad campaigns of the other coalitions. Negative ads predominated throughout the campaign, and PT and PSDB especially focused their resources on Marina Silva. We also learned how Brazil regulates political TV ad time. While free for all parties, the distribution of time is determined by the last national vote, and the relative size of each coalition in Congress. This meant that while PT got 12 minutes of free airtime each day and PSDB 4 minutes, PSB got only 2 minutes. While some ads attracted more interest for their style than their substance, this arrangement clearly did not help Marina Silva. In the end, a run-off was required between Ms. Rouseff and Mr. Neves, scheduled for three weeks after the initial elections.

Similar to US elections, debates and negative ads occupied a great deal of the airtime in the lead-up to the runoff. Ms. Silva endorsed Mr. Neves on October 12th, but PSDB ultimately earned about as many former Marina supporters’ votes as PT did. Dilma Rouseff earned her re-election with 51.64% of the vote. The question for the future, as Mr. Alves suggested, is what does the re-election of a PT president predict about the fate of PT programs?

Our class has a wide array of policy interests, so it was useful to hear about some of the Brazilian government’s major policy programs. Most of us were familiar with the social aid organization Bolsa Familia, which has received worldwide praise for its poverty alleviation efforts throughout Brazil. It is unlikely that this program will be significantly changed, since Mr. Alves showed a strong correlation in this election between Bolsa Familia recipients, and districts won by Ms. Rouseff. However, other programs may run into more trouble. Mais Médicos (More Doctors) sends Cuban doctors to provide care in underserved areas of rural Brazil; while a very successful program, some Brazilians are troubled by its political implications. Urban and rural land rights organizations are very popular in certain places (stay tuned for a write-up of our class on Brazilian Urbanism), but do not have universal popularity like Bolsa Familia. Finally, the education scholarship group Prouni is popular with many Brazilians, but often sends students to less prestigious, more expensive, private universities, rather than the more prestigious, free, public universities that are mainly filled by those students who (ironically) could afford to pay to attend private high schools.

Overall, we learned a great deal from Mr. Alves, and now have a strong sense of the political landscape in Brazil, and some leads on what specific policy programs we could investigate in Brazil. Obrigado!

Kyle Olsen
JD/MPP 2018

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.