The drama of Brazilian mothers who lost their aid: "It destroyed people's lives"

While families remain impoverished, the Government doesn’t present alternatives for resuming or adjusting benefits

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
With five children to feed, 27 year old Aline Bispo dos Cantos, received only 160 reais in benefits from the Bolsa Família program - Pedro Stropasolas

In Grajaú, located in the southernmost part of the city of São Paulo, women from the Jardim Gaivotas Settlement are emblematic of the impoverishment and lack of job prospects faced by many, after the government’s emergency aid ended.

"It destroyed our lives. Today we have what to eat, tomorrow we don’t know. Today we eat lunch to have dinner. Or we don’t even eat to let the child eat. Because it’s very bad, your child asking for milk and you not having any to give ", says Erika Aparecida Severino, who is unemployed and survives on donations to feed her six children.

According to a recent survey by Datafolha, 69% of Brazilians assisted by emergency aid in 2020, have yet to obtain another source of income after December.

The R$ 600 benefit aided more than 126 million people, representing 60% of the Brazilian population, according to the Ministry of Citizenship. According to the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, from May to December, 15 million Brazilians were lifted from extreme poverty because of the benefits.

Amid the rise in by deaths by covid-19, the federal government does not yet confirm the resumption of the benefit despite pressure from Congress, popular movements and civil society.

Will aid return?

On Thursday night (4th), the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, considered the possibility of resuming emergency aid during a meeting with the new Senate President, Rodrigo Pacheco. The resumption however, depends on reforms and would cover only half of current beneficiaries.

“I don't know why they didn't keep the aid. It was helping a lot of people. It was a good help for me. Just yesterday my son, who's drinks milk, didn't have it. I went to Dona Ana to ask for some. Last night I went after a packet of sugar I didn't have. Today he asked for an orange, we no longer had any. He asks for a banana. It makes me cry, because I don't have food to give to my children”, laments cleaning assistant Aline Bispo dos Cantos.

The 27-year-old mother, also unemployed, today survives from the Bolsa Família(a previous family allowance program) program to feed her five children. In 2020, all beneficiaries of the program were included in the disbursment of the emergency aid.

“This month, I received 160 reais from Bolsa Família. But since I buy things on a regular basis, I have to pay at the market. It was like 50 reais to buy bread”, she says.

Outdated Family Allowance

The lag in the Bolsa Família assistance program, with no updated values, has increased the vulnerability of families, as pointed out by Leandro Teodoro Ferreira, president of the Brazilian Basic Income Network.

“The increases in Bolsa Família in recent years were not sufficient to make up for inflation. In 2017 and 2016 they were already below what was necessary ", points out Ferreira.

"Now we have a situation in which even though families are eligible to receive the aid, it may not be enough for them to maintain their dignity, in a scenario of such difficulty as the one imposed by the pandemic."

In the 2021 budget, the federal government even signaled towards the restructuring and readjustment of the program, with an increase of 5.5 billion reais in relation to 2020. However, the budget has not yet been approved by Congress.

Currently, about 1.4 million families are in line to join the program - despite having previously registered with the Ministry of Citizenship.

The last readjustment in Bolsa Família was one of 5.6%, granted by the Temer government in 2018. In 2020, according to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (Dieese), food inflation alone was 14, 09%.

"The more poor people die, the better"

Ana Maria Gomes Santos is the one who organizes the few donations that today reach 200 families in Jardim Gaivotas, located in a densely occupied area on the banks of the Billings Dam. She reports the drama of those who can only use Bolsa Família for household expenses.

"How does a family survive on 160 reais of Bolsa Família with 5 children?", she asks.

"Unfortunately they think we are useless, but we useful for washing their bathrooms, we are useful for cooking for them, we are useful to do their laundry, their ironing, to take care of their children, we are the class they need, even when we are not managing to do more, because we no longer have a job”, affirms the community leader, whose commute to her employer's house took 3 hours before she was dismissed without any remuneration.

Also a day laborer, Maria Raimunda Pereira fears taking to the streets because of the virus: “Three of mine have breathing problems. The more poor people die, the better. Anything that is for the poor that they can eliminate, they will because it’s much better for them", laments the worker.

Pereira needs to guarantee the livelihood of four children and reports the difficulties she faces to buy food due to rising prices. "Here, cooking gas costs 87 reais. You buy the gas, buy the rice, the beans, and the money is over", she points out.

"The price of rice is absurd, the beans are also expensive. Even if you receive a food basket, they do not give you one to last a month, it's fifteen days, a week most. It's not just one child. There are four and myself. "

Other side

Asked by Brasil de Fato about the possibility of resuming the distribution of emergency aid, the Ministry of Economy replied that it will not comment on the matter. The Ministry has not responded until now.

Edited by: Leandro Melito