On Monday (30th), the Senate approved the creation of a universal basic income to aid the most vulnerable workers, in the face of the worsening economic crisis, caused by the spread of the coronavirus in the country. To go into effect, the measure must be approved by president Jair Bolsonaro in up to 15 days. The project passed unanimously, with the votes of all 79 lawmakers present at the session.
According to the bill, the aid will be of R$600, for three months, given to informal laborers, the unemployed, the self employed, and micro and small self entrepreneurs. For mothers who are heads of households, two sums will be given, with the benefit totaling 1.200 Reais. Payments will be made through the federal public banks.
There were no substantial changes from the bill that passed Congress last Thursday (26th). The law requires that eligible workers be over the age of 18, have no formal employment ties, not be already receiving social security or federal income benefits like unemployment.
There will also be a requirement that individual incomes be no more than half the federal minimum wage (R$522,50), or that the combined family income be a maximum of three minimum wages (R$3.135,00). “The amounts are smaller than they should be, but it’s a step forward”, says senator Reguffe. For Senator Paulo Rocha, the passing of the bill exemplifies the responsibility the Legislative branch has in addressing the situation urgently. “This is the role of the State at the moment, and it was fundamental that we brought up the question of a universal basic income”, he said.
Upon seeing the voting end in favor of the measure, senator Alessandro Vieira highlighted that the proposal is based on the dignity of the human person, embedded in the Federal Constitution of 1988. He went further, and defended that due to the seriousness of the situation caused by the pandemic, the Brazilian State should intensify its participation in the economy, through assistance for the most vulnerable workers.
“It’s the worst health crisis in the last 100 years and could very well be the worst economic crisis of the same period. It’s a global crisis. We can’t choose between having or not having this happen, choose between going or not going through this moment in time. It is here, that’s a fact. We can however, choose how we face it and overcome it. The script could not be different”.
Vieira also commented that there is no dichotomy between defending healthcare or the economy: “They walk side by side, but we should always prioritize the defense of life. Resources won’ get to those who need it, food won’t get to tables by itself or because of a speech someone gave somewhere. We need work in the real world to ensure these things happen”.
After much political dealing, the wings of the different parties approved the bill, which had votes from diverse political ideologies. Regardless of the deal, the measure initially faced resistance from some government allies. Based on the discourse of fiscal responsibility, those close to the presidency tried to avoid, since debates began in Congress, that the benefits contain large sums of money, having proposed an assistance of R$200 at first.
“We cannot think of about public expenditures at this point. This is an emergency in which we have to address people’s needs. This issue of a universal basic income could have already been resolved if the government had acted before, people would already be getting money, but they did nothing”, argues Senate opposition leader, Randolfe Rodrigues, while defending the law that passed.
Other types of workers
Alongside the debates over the bill, there is a growing movement within Congress to concede assistance benefits to other types of workers. That would be the case for seasonal fishermen, and ride share drivers, for example. Due to this, leaders of different Congressional groups have agreed that these and other segments must be contemplated, in a separate bill that is being drafted by Senators, and may start being discussed on Tuesday (31st).
Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas e Ítalo Piva