0.556. This is Brazil’s current GINI Coefficient. This number is a computed value of the amount of inequality present within a society on a scale of zero to one: zero meaning a perfectly equal society, where all wealth and income is shared evenly among citizens, and one representing a perfectly unequal society, in which all the income and wealth is owned by a single individual. The current GINI Coefficient for the U.S., for example, is 0.45. This number shows that the United States’ wealth and income, in a sense, is more spread more equitably among American citizens than is the case in Brasil. Though the U.S.’s GINI is not as low as one might expect, this can mainly be explained by the small influence government cash benefits have on income (when compared to similar programs found elsewhere in the world). Even with the relatively small impact of the cash transfer programs in the United States, this GINI is still lower than Brazil’s inequality statistic. In six years, however, Brazil was able to reduce their GINI Coefficient by seven percent. This was no small task and one that Brazilians are quite proud of--and rightly so.
In 1988, Brazil adopted a new constitution under which all citizens are entitled to the right to dignity. The Supreme Court determined that, in order to lead a dignified life, citizens are entitled to have adequate access to nourishment. To help carry out the High Court’s declaration, in January 2004, the federal government created the Ministry of Social Development and the Fight Against Hunger.
In Santa Catarina, the state where Florianopolis is located, the Social Development and Fight Against Hunger branch of the Ministry is in charge of coordinating food programs, providing social assistance, performing income transfers, and creating inclusion within the work force. Pitt MAP 2013 had the privilege of meeting with representatives of this Ministry to learn about what specifically the country is doing to fight inequality.
Simone Vieira, the director of Santa Catarina’s MSDFAH division, walked us through the roles and objectives of the agency. One of the key missions of the Ministry is to find the people who need its help, Simone explained. This process is done by way of registering families with the government through the Single Registry. When a family is catalogued in the Single Registry, they have access to health care, education, and other basic human rights, such as the right to food.
Claudia Moser, a social worker specializing in public assistance, is responsible for Santa Catarina’s branch of Bolsa Familia, Brazil’s world-renowned conditional food stipend program. Bolsa Familia is based on a family’s income and size according to the Single Registry. Of the 438,408 families who applied for assistance with the Single Registry in Santa Catarina in 2012, 314,000 families fall into some category of assistance through BF. These family units would have fallen into the income category of Poor (earning less than 140 Reis per month per family member) or Extremely Poor (earning less than 70 Reis per month per family member). Through BF, families who are considered Poor receive 32 Reis per month for each family member who is pregnant, breast-feeding, or under fifteen years of age (up to five members) and 38 Reis per month for sixteen and seventeen year olds (up to two). For Extremely Poor families, a 70 Reis standard stipend is received regardless of size. In cases of families who do not reach the 140 Reis per month with the 70 Reis stipend, the family will receive an additional 70 Reis per month.
In order to receive the funds, families must follow several education and health conditions. First, children fifteen years old or younger must attend at least 85% of their classes in school; sixteen and seventeen year olds must attend at least 75% of classes. Also, children under the age of seven, as well as nursing and pregnant women must attend nutrition monitoring appointments. The children (under seven) must keep immunizations up to date and mothers must attend prenatal and postnatal doctor’s appointments.
Bolsa Familia has strict conditions because the program aspires to relieve immediate poverty, end the cycle of poverty, and provide complimentary supplements (i.e. job training). Not all Brazilians approve of Bolsa Familia, however. Ms. Moser thinks this may be due to the fact that the taxpayers only see the stipend as a government handout; they don’t see the additional requirements as a way to address the social consequences of poverty.
Despite some middle class opposition, Santa Catarina has 25,000 families waiting for Bolsa Familia benefits. The problem is now in the federal government’s court; the Ministry of Social Development and the Fight Against Hunger do not receive a set amount of funds each year, making planning and action difficult. But Ms. Moser remains confident in the program despite the national government’s lack of consistent support: “I believe in the program. I am in love with the program. I feel that [underprivileged] families deserve support because they got [in this position] because of the government’s lack of support.”