In an unprecedented move, São Paulo's mayor announced today that immigrants will be eligible and encouraged to apply for Bolsa Família, a Brazilian cash transfer program that began in 2003. Though earlier iterations of this welfare program existed previously, Bolsa Família is credited with helping to lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty over the last decade.
O Globo reports that up to 50,000 people could benefit from the new eligibility. São Paulo is home to at least 360,000 immigrants, though officials estimate that the total number including the undocumented could be as high as a million. Haitians and Bolivians are expected to be the largest number of beneficiaries.
To be eligible, immigrants must bring proof of registering as an immigrant or of asking for asylum, as well as a CPF, akin to a social security number. Like Brazilians, immigrants must make less than R$140 ($54) per person a month, and must keep kids in school and get them regular vaccinations. By signing up with the government's central registration system, immigrants will also be eligible for other government programs, like the housing program Minha Casa, Minha Vida.
"It's not charity; it's in the city's interest that these immigrants develop and produce to make São Paulo grow. And that's why it's necessary to give them the minimal conditions [to make that happen]," the city's human rights secretary told the media. The idea is also to prevent vulnerable immigrants living in extreme poverty from resorting to modern-day slavery conditions.
Though it's the first time there's been a concerted effort to give immigrants this benefit, foreigners have received Bolsa Familia in the past and have technically always been eligible under Brazilian law. According to Estado de São Paulo, over 6,000 immigrants were recipients in 2009, though the majority of those beneficiaries lived on or near Brazil's borders.
The move couldn't stand in starker contrast to what's happening in the United States, where Congress voted today to block the president's executive action on immigration. And even Obama's immigration announcement, considered extreme by some on the right, includes nothing about welfare or government financial support for immigrants.
Image: Senado Federal, Flickr.