Public Policy

Unintended Consequences: Brazil’s Bolsa Família Welfare Program

Brazil’s Bolsa Família program has been help up as one of the great social welfare programs.  It has been a model for Mexico’s own Oportunidades social welfare program.  

The Wilson Quarterly reports that the 44 million poor Brazilians who participate in this program receive payments of up to $104 a month for sending their children to school, getting them vaccinated, and sending them to health clinics.  These are large amounts since these families on average earn less than $73 month.  It has been shown that the program has increased vaccination rates and school attendance. 

However, the Bolsa Família program may not be as inocuous as it seems.  Anothony Hall (2008) documents that these grants have been used in some areas to buy votes.  Further, spending on Bolsa Família has crowded out other social spending programs.  For instance, federal spending on basic sanitation and housing fell in real terms by 46% between 2002 and 2004.  Finally, the Bolsa Família may draw people towards working in the informal sector.  Formal sector employment may make a family ineligible for the Bolsa Família grants.  São Paulo’s informal sector doubled in size (to 51%) between 1991 and 2004.  

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