The Lula government (Workers’ Party) is having internal discussions to create an Indigenous Family Grant. The intent isn’t to create a new social program but to make the payment schedule flexible and unblock other bureaucratic obstacles to accessing the program.
The changes may benefit Indigenous families that make costly and long trips to withdraw the monthly payment. Communities living in the Amazon Forest, far away from urban centers, have to deal with such problems.
The proposal can be read in an official letter by the country’s National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples – also known as Funai – and obtained by Brasil de Fato. The document was sent to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to be presented to the Ministry of Development and Social Assistance, which coordinates the Family Grant program.
The most important measure proposed by Funai is for the federal government to extend the withdrawal period for social programs from 120 to 180 days for the Indigenous population. For the second phase, the Indigenous foundation suggests to estabilish a 270-day period in 270 with Congress’s approval.
Another topic under discussion is adapting the payment schedule to meet Indigenous peoples’ needs. Currently, the payment is linked to the receivers’ Social Identification Number (NIS, in Portuguese). The idea is that the money withdrawal can occur independently of the schedule.
To many Indigenous communities, the Family Grant Program, which was launched in 2003, meant the first time they had regular and continued access to a social program. Two decades later, the Brazilian Indigenous movement became stronger and now, making part of the Lula government, it intends to improve the social policy.
The Indigenous Family Grant wasn’t been officially announced yet by the federal government. Before this, Funai highlights in the official letter the need for talking with Indigenous peoples and organizations, as provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169.
Understand why the proposal is relevant
Juci Carneiro, territorial manager of the Macuxi Indigenous people, who has been working with Indigenous organizations in the state of Roraima, says that the changes may solve difficulties Indigenous families face since 2003, when the Family Grant program was launched.
“There are communities where people travel by air (to urban centers). Others, in vessels through rivers. During the dry season, when the rivers are low, it becomes even more difficult. Therefore, the costs are very high,” explains Juci Carneiro.
To withdraw the monthly payments, Indigenous individuals need to save some money to pay for fuel and food. Quite frequently, the trip costs are higher than the Family Grant payment.
“Also, parentes (roughly translated as “relatives”, it’s the Portuguese word Indigenous peoples use to refer to themselves) usually don’t go to cities and towns alone. It’s a cultural habit travelling with their families, which rises costs even more. The amount to be received doesn’t always compensate for the expense of travelling. That’s why making the payment schedule flexible is crucial,” says the Macuxi manager.
Precarious stay in urban centers
With more days to withdraw the money and a flexible payment schedule, the Indigenous Family Grant can solve the problem of families staying in urban centers that don’t have adequate infrastructure to receive them.
Without assistance, Indigenous individuals are unable to buy food or pay for accommodation. To make it even harder, it’s common that places where people can withdraw money, such as lottery retailers, to run out of bills.
“Cities and towns often have no bills. So parentes end up waiting for days when the idea was coming back home in the late afternoon. Then they don’t have a place where to stay and lack assistance. Cities and towns don’t have a place to accommodate them,” says Juci.
It’s recurrent that mothers with their kids spend up to a month under such conditions due to a lack of resources to return home. Thus, they are exposed to urban violence and unhealthy conditions, without drinking water and eating appropriate food.
Juci Carneiro sees these and other situations in her hometown, Uimarutã, northern Roraima state. She says that individuals from the Ingarikó people elaborated an accommodation project to have a place to stay in the city and demanded the city hall carry out the project.
“Unfortunately, the project doesn’t meet our needs. Parentes stay there, but it’s just a kind of shed where there is no access to water. The bathroom doesn’t work. The structure is new, but absolutely unsuitable,” she adds.
The proposal includes actions to prevent business owners from keeping receivers’ cards
Another situation that worries Funai is local non-indigenous business owners keeping Family Grant cards. The practice is common, particularly when an Indigenous person needs a service or product urgently, but can’t stay in the city or withdraw the money.
Juci Carneiro explains that, at first, many Indigenous individuals see this kind of agreement as positive due to the strict payment schedule. But, often, they end up being deceived by business owners in dishonest transactions, which prevent the effectiveness of the social policy.
“A parente goes to the city, but it is not yet within the withdrawal period, or else the money is not available in the bank. Then he buys, for instance, food or a boat part, which is equivalent to the value of the monthly payment provided by the Family Grant program. So, the payment arrangement is that the business owner keeps the receiver’s card and passwords,” she details.
To stop this practice, Funai pointed out in the official letter sent to the Ministry of Social Development the need to create a program called “Comerciante Legal” (“Nice Business Owner”, in a rough translation). Juci Carneiro welcomes the measure. She also suggests allowing the payments of purchases using the card, without the need for withdrawals.
“There are parentes who don’t speak Portuguese, who know what money is, but don’t know how to calculate change. They have difficulties understanding how monetary transactions work,”she explains.
Funai suggested expanding a social program dismantled by Bolsonaro
Besides the Indigenous Family Grant program, Funai suggested making adaptations to the Food Acquisition Program (PAA, in Portuguese) to include geographical and cultural particularities of Indigenous peoples. Through the program, the federal government purchases food from small producers, such as Indigenous and quilombolas farmers.
“PAA was fundamental to Indigenous populations. It can be reestablished and, obviously, adapted to the socioeconomic realities of the region. These are aspects that must be considered by the government when formulating adaptations in the Family Grant program,” says Mariana Inglez, a bioanthropologist and researcher from the University of São Paulo (USP), who studies the consumption of processed food by river dwellers in the Amazon.
In the official letter, Funai recommends expanding PAA and guaranteeing access for Indigenous populations to the program, which was almost extinguished during the Bolsonaro administration. The initiative’s budget for 2023 has been cut by 97 percent.
According to the researcher, the articulation of the Indigenous Family Grant with other programs to fight food insecurity can prevent tragedies like that seen in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, where malnutrition causes the deaths of children and elderly people.
“It’s fundamental that policies aimed at river dweller, Indigenous and quilombola populations always listen to the demands of local representatives and take into account the differences within these groups. We are talking about an amazing linguistic and cultural variation. Therefore, it’s important to consider every context, including the environmental reality where each one of these groups is located,” she assesses.
No mention of increasing the amount to be paid to Indigenous peoples
One month ago, the Ministry of Development and Social Assistance and Caixa Econômica Federal (the Brazilian equivalent to the Federal Savings Bank) signed a protocol of intentions to discuss how to serve Indigenous peoples living in remote areas. During the event, officials have already mentioned creating an Indigenous Family Grant program.
In the proposal, Funai says that the Lula government opened an opportunity to reorganize public policies that, at the time of their elaboration, did not consider the specific characteristics of native peoples. In the Funai document, there is no mention of an increase in the amount paid by the social program, nor of a deadline for implementing the changes.
The foundation also wants municipalities to closely monitor whether are being applied to Indigenous individuals receiving the payments. According to the Indigenist agency, it is necessary to ensure that Caixa branches located in towns inner the Amazon are better qualified to minimize the bureaucratic obstacles to accessing Family Grant.
Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho
Leave a Reply