The Brazilian Chamber of Congress approved, this past Thursday (26), the creation of an emergency basic income of 600 Reais, to last for three months, geared towards informal laborers, the self employed, the unemployed and micro businesses affected by the novel coronavirus. For families with two or more workers and single mothers, the amount will be 1,200R$. Those with no children will get R$600 as well. The measure should benefit 24 million people.
The proposal will now be evaluated by the Senate, and if approved, needs to be signed into law by president Jair Bolsonaro in a maximum of fifteen days if it is to take effect.
The text of the law that passed in Congress, states that the aid will be given to workers over the age of 18, who are not already beneficiaries of other government assistance programs like unemployment. Other criteria must also be met. To be eligible for the help, persons must, for example, have a monthly income of at most half the minimum wage, or a combined family income of at most 3 times the minimum wage. They must also not have earned wages over R$ 28.559,70 during the 2018 fiscal year.
After back and forth lobbying between the government and the opposition, congressman Marcelo Aro (who sponsored the bill), affirmed that the measure was adequate judicially, and for the budget. Benefits will be distributed to the population via a savings account, which will automatically be opened on behalf of beneficiaries.
The opposition hailed the result as positive. “This is an historic night, because parliament is exercising its role and being a protagonist in this matter”, said Reginaldo Lopes, a congressman from the state of Minas Gerais, who went further, and suggested lawmakers go beyond this emergency response and debate the problem of structural unemployment.
“We gave it our all in order to create the best proposal possible. It still has some limitations, but it was what we could get done today”, commented Rio de Janeiro congressman, Alessandro Molon.
The approval of the bill was a result of deal struck by all parties in the Chamber, after an intense discussion. The debate stemmed from the government’s initial proposal that the assistance be of R$200. “We had tireless discussions to get to this. The government’s initial proposal wasn’t serious and down right disrespectful, especially to the poorest in society”, criticized congressman Marcelo Freixo, adding that the result of the vote was an important step forward.
During the debates, different members of the opposition complained about the reluctance of government allies to sign onto the measure. The minority parties had initially asked for benefits amounting to 1000 Reais, but the notion was attacked by the establishment members, who emphasized the need to cut costs.
“This is a time when we need to be serene, balanced and responsible”, stated the leader of the government wing in Congress, Major Victor Hugo.
For Gleisi Hoffman, the second in command of the opposition in the parliament, there was a lack of interest and planning by the administration to deal with the crisis. Like other parliamentarians, she pointed out that may workers end up exposing themselves to infection while they are seeking to maintain households and income during the crisis, especially those working in the informal sector.
“We cannot make people decide between risking infection or starving. Since December, the country knew that there would be a coronavirus catastrophe. The authorities were warned, the alarm was sounded. Why didn’t they do anything? Why did they wait?”, questioned the congresswoman, whilst defending the population be given assistance of even higher values.
Voting on the bill in the Senate will begin on Friday (26).