BRASILIA – The Brazilian government resumed on Tuesday paying monthly subsidies designed to alleviate the economic dislocation being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic among the country’s poorest, although the aid is now being distributed to fewer people and in smaller amounts.
The resumption of the financial aid, which had been provided between April and December 2020, was forced upon the government by the worsening of the pandemic, which in Brazil has already killed almost 333,000 and infected more than 13 million, a situation that is forcing part of the country to keep economic activities restricted, with the consequent dire impact on unemployment figures.
Nevertheless, pressured by a fiscal deficit that has skyrocketed to 14 percent of the GDP due to the 2020 health crisis, the Jair Bolsonaro administration has reduced both the amount of the newly reimplemented subsidies and the number of people who will benefit from them.
During last year, that subsidy program helped 68 million people between March and December with monthly payments of 600 reais ($110) during the first seven months, payments that were cut in half during the final three-month phase.
Now, and for an initial period of four months, those subsidies will go to 45.6 million people and – depending on a person’s social situation – will fluctuate between 150 reais ($27) and 375 reais ($67) per month.
According to the government, among the beneficiaries of the program will be the country’s roughly 14 million unemployed, but this time not all the informal workers – calculated to total some 50 million – will be included among those to receive subsidies.
Bolsonaro admitted that the benefits should “be more” and that the amount “is very low,” but he also said that the money is a “debt” that the government is taking on and has been emphasizing on a daily basis that the country needs to “get back to work as soon as possible.”
According to the Brazilian Food Sovereignty Investigation Network, an NGO focusing on poverty studies, last year – because of the pandemic – almost 55 percent of Brazil’s 210 million citizens had “some level of nutritional deficit.”
Among those, and despite the subsidies, there were 19 million people who “went hungry,” a situation that was ameliorated by hundreds of organizations that distributed food in the country’s “favelas” or shantytowns and other “pockets of poverty.”
The first of the four new monthly subsidy payments will be paid in a graduated manner over the coming two weeks and on Tuesday just 5 percent of the 45.6 million beneficiaries received them.
Many people formed long lines at Caixa Economica offices to collect the subsidies, failing to abide by social distancing recommendations.
The same thing occurred at many vaccination centers, where the immunization process is moving slowly due to a lack of vaccine with about 10 percent of Brazil’s population having received at least one dose so far.
Many COVID-19 sufferers are also waiting to be admitted to intensive care units, with many hospitals having absolutely no available space in their ICUs because of the massive inflow of seriously ill patients.
Meanwhile, in the past 24 hours Brazil registered 4,195 COVID-19 deaths, a new daily record, bringing the nationwide death toll to 336,947 since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, authorities said.
The previous daily death toll record was set on March 31 with 3,869 people succumbing to the virus.
The Health Ministry reported 86,979 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total official caseload so far to 13,100,580, and clearly indicating that the pandemic in Brazil is at its worst at this point with the health care system on the verge of collapsing.
Brazil is the country in the No. 2 spot for COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases, behind only the US, and it is the country with the highest daily average pandemic death toll at present.