The Lula government (PT) is internally discussing the creation of the Bolsa Família Indígena. The intention is not to create a new social benefit, but to make the payment schedule more flexible and break down other bureaucratic barriers to accessing the program.
The changes could benefit indigenous families who need to make long and expensive trips to withdraw the installments. The problem is faced by communities far from urban centers in the interior of the Amazon.
The proposal is in a letter from the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (Funai) obtained exclusively by the Brazil in fact. The document was forwarded to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples (MPI) to be sent to the Ministry of Development and Social Assistance (MDS), which coordinates Bolsa Família.
The main measure proposed by Funai is for the federal government to authorize the extension of the withdrawal period for social benefits from 120 to 180 days for the indigenous population. In a second stage, the indigenist body suggests that the period be extended even further, to 270 days, with the approval of Congress.
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Another point under discussion is the breaking of the payment schedule, which today is linked to the Social Identification Number (NIS) of the beneficiaries. The idea is that the withdrawal can occur independently of the day foreseen in the calendar.
Bolsa Família, created in 2003, meant for many indigenous communities the first regular and continuous access to a social program. Twenty years later, the Brazilian indigenous movement gained strength and now, participating in the Lula government, plans to improve the benefit.
Bolsa Família Indígena was not publicly announced by the federal government. Before making the change in rules official, Funai points out in the official letter the need to consult indigenous peoples and organizations, as provided for in convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Understand why the proposal is important
Juci Carneiro, an indigenous land manager for the Macuxi people who works with indigenous organizations in Roraima, says that the changes could correct a problem faced by indigenous families since 2003, when Bolsa Família was created.
“There are communities that only have access by air, others only by river. During the dry season, when the rivers are low, it becomes even more difficult. So the costs are very high”, explains Juci Carneiro.
Read also: How Bolsonaro led to famine in the Amazon and what Lula should do to reverse the situation
To withdraw the benefit, the indigenous people need to save money to pay for fuel and food. Often, the trip is more expensive than the Bolsa Família installments.
“And the relative usually doesn’t go to the city alone. It is a cultural habit to travel with the family, so the cost increases even more. The amount to be received does not always compensate for the expense that will be incurred in this displacement. That’s why breaking the calendar is important,” says the indigenous land manager.
Staying in cities is precarious
With the extended deadline and the flexibility in the calendar, Bolsa Família Indígena can solve the problem of families staying in cities that do not have adequate infrastructure to receive them.
Without assistance, indigenous people are unable to buy food or pay for accommodation. To make matters even more difficult, it is common for banknotes not to be available for withdrawal at the branches.
“Many times there is a lack of money in the municipal seat. So the relative ends up having to wait days, when his plan was to return home in the late afternoon. And then there is no place to stay, no assistance. Municipalities do not have a space to receive people”, says the indigenous Macuxi.
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It is common for mothers with children to spend up to a month in these conditions, due to lack of money to return to the village. Thus, they are exposed to urban violence and unhealthy conditions, without access to clean water and adequate food.
Juci Carneiro closely observes these and other situations in his hometown, Uiramutã, in the far north of Roraima. She says that Ingarikó indigenous people created a housing project to have a place to stay in the city and pressured the city hall to carry it out.
“Unfortunately the project does not meet the need. Relatives stay there, but it is just a shed where there is no water, because the water is not enough. The toilet doesn’t work. The structure is new, but absolutely precarious”, he reports.
Proposal includes combating card retention by merchants
Another situation that worries Funai is the retention of Bolsa Família cards by local non-indigenous traders. The practice is common, especially when the indigenous person needs a service or merchandise urgently, but cannot wait in the city for the withdrawal of the benefit.
Juci Carneiro explains that, at first, many indigenous people considered that the agreement could be favorable, precisely because of the rigidity of the payment schedule. But often they end up being deceived by businessmen in dishonest transactions, which prevent the realization of social policy.
“The relative goes to the city, but it is not yet within the withdrawal period, or else the money is not available at the bank. So he takes, for example, food or a part to maintain the boat, which is equivalent to the value of the benefit. And the trader keeps the card and passwords”, describes the indigenous land manager.
To curb the measure, Funai pointed out in the letter sent to the Ministry of Social Development the need to create a program called Legal Trader. The measure is welcomed by Juci Carneiro. She also suggests that purchases can be made directly on the card, without the need for withdrawals.
“There are relatives who don’t speak Portuguese, who even know what money is, but don’t know how to calculate change. There is the difficulty of understanding how money works, ”he explains.
Funai suggested expanding the program scrapped by Bolsonaro
In addition to the Bolsa Família Indígena, Funai suggested adjustments to the Food Acquisition Program (PAA) to take into account the geographical and cultural particularities of indigenous peoples. Through this program, the federal government buys food from small producers, including quilombolas and indigenous people.
“The PAA was fundamental for the indigenous populations. It can be rebuilt and obviously adapted to the socioeconomic contexts of each region. These are aspects that must be considered when the government formulates these adaptations of Bolsa Família”, says Mariana Inglez, a bioanthropologist and researcher at the University of São Paulo (USP) who studies the consumption of ultra-processed products by riverside populations in the Amazon.
In the letter, Funai suggests expanding the PAA and guaranteeing access for indigenous populations to the program, which was practically extinguished during the Bolsonaro administration. The initiative’s budget for 2023 has been cut by 97%.
According to the USP researcher, the articulation of Bolsa Família Indígena with other programs to fight food insecurity can avoid tragedies like in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, where malnutrition causes deaths of children and elderly people.
“It is important that policies aimed at riverside, indigenous and quilombola populations always consult local representatives and consider the variations of each group. We are talking about incredible linguistic and cultural variability. So it’s important to consider each context, including the environmental reality where each of these groups is located”, evaluated the bioanthropologist.
There is no mention of an increase in the value of the benefit for indigenous people
A month ago, the Ministry of Social Development and Caixa Econômica Federal signed a protocol of intentions to discuss how to serve indigenous people in remote locations. At the ceremony, authorities had already mentioned the creation of an Indigenous Family Grant.
In the proposal, Funai says that the Lula government opened the opportunity to reorganize public policies that, at the time of their elaboration, did not foresee the specificities of the native peoples. In the Funai document, there is no mention of an increase in the value of the social program, nor of a deadline for implementing the changes.
The Foundation also wants municipalities to closely monitor whether the new rules will be applied to indigenous beneficiaries. It is necessary, according to the indigenist body, to ensure that Caixa branches in the cities of the interior of the Amazon are better qualified to minimize the bureaucratic barriers to access the Bolsa Família.
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho
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