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Social assistance was devastated and a new pact against hunger is needed, says former minister Márcia Lopes


The federal government’s lack of articulation with states and municipalities has contributed to the deterioration of the social assistance network in the country, evaluates the former Minister of Social Development and Fight against Hunger Márcia Lopes.

In an interview with Sheet, she claims that there is a “devastating diagnosis from the point of view of increasing poverty and inequalities” and that it will be necessary to make a coordinated effort to re-establish policies and identify families that need government help. There will also be a need to recompose resources by at least R$ 2.7 billion.

Márcia Lopes is one of the coordinators of the social assistance technical group, alongside senator Simone Tebet (MDB-MS), former minister Tereza Campello and state deputy André Quintão (PT-MG).

One of the first actions, according to her, will be an analysis of the Single Registry of social programs, with the participation of states and municipalities, to identify any flaws and correct them. “We are going to call the municipal secretaries. The president talks a lot about the participation of councils, conferences. It is a new social pact”, she says.

What is the diagnosis of the situation of social assistance, of Auxílio Brasil, which will probably go back to being called Bolsa Família?

From the Lula government, we implemented the Unified Social Assistance System [o Suas], making a nationwide organization. We professionalized the area, going from a budget of BRL 8 billion in 2004 to BRL 84 billion in 2016 between benefits and services. And what happened [depois] it was a standstill. There was a breakdown, the budget went back to what it was before 2002 for services. What should be at least R$ 2.7 billion was cut for next year by 96%, turning into R$ 128 million. In other words, it extinguishes Suas.

Another issue is related to food security, which is a transversal policy. I coordinated the GT [grupo de trabalho] Zero Hunger with 13 mysteries, and we had school meals in Education, nutritional surveillance in Health, Pronaf [programa de financiamento para a agricultura familiar]in the MDA [Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário], cisterns, popular restaurants, food banks. This has all been lost in the current government. There was a dismantling of both the budget and the structure and functioning.

The federal government coordinates policies, co-finances, but it cannot do without the states and municipalities. That federative pact was broken. There was a rupture, lack of dialogue, distancing, resolutions that were made from the top down. It is a devastating diagnosis from the point of view of the increase in poverty and inequalities.

What will be the priorities at the beginning of the government?

The first priority is to fight hunger, but for that you are already starting to articulate sectoral policies that also talk to the country’s development itself. Both the transfer of income and the improvement of school meals, health care, the resumption of food production. My proposal, being in the transition of social assistance, is to start this articulation with other areas.

It is in this framework of policy integration that we will in fact have guidance at the national level, building with the states and municipalities. We are going to call the municipal secretaries. The president talks a lot about the participation of councils, conferences. It is a new social pact. And getting the Budget to ensure the transfer of income, that’s fundamental, that’s why this articulation in Congress.

Once you get the resources, can you do a job relatively quickly?

I have no doubt. When we started Fome Zero, we made a spreadsheet crossing the data and the reduction in infant mortality, malnutrition, and [o aumento] of the permanence of the children in the schools, because of the conditionalities. And each area will try to seek its restructuring. In each municipality, there are many services that did not close because the mayor held them back. If you rescue the minimum budget, resume the transfer of resources, this already provides a condition for them to work together.

How much would it take to re-establish this network of care services?

For us to rescue, restore what we already had, we need R$ 2.7 billion. And to update, expand the demand for services, that would be around R$ 6 billion, that for services. Cras [Centro de Referência de Assistência Social]creas [Centro de Referência Especializado de Assistência Social]homeless population center, return the transfer of the decentralized management index, for training, for the eradication of child labor.

Experts claim that the current format of the Auxílio Brasil generated a distortion in the CadÚnico, which encourages the division of families. As Mrs. Do you see this problem and how can you solve it?

this question is [observada] because there was also an interruption in the way in which the state coordinators of the Cadastro Único, the local coordinators, were called and charged, including in relation to updating the database, the dynamics that existed in home visits, in the participation of families. When emergency aid [concedido durante a pandemia] makes this break, dispenses with the states and municipalities and makes this transfer directly, that [quantidade de falhas] it was accumulating.

I have no doubt that one of the Ministry’s first actions will be an analysis of CadÚnico, with the participation of municipalities and states. I am sure that CadÚnico is a fundamental management tool and that it will have to be analyzed and indeed improved, in order to have full transparency and [estar] always integrated with local services.

Could it be necessary to reunite these families that split in search of a higher benefit value, or else review the Bolsa Família design, resuming the value per person?

So far, what we have in terms of information and decisions is to ensure that no family will receive less, at least in the coming months. I think that everything can be improved and improved, but from the perspective of ensuring the families’ rights and needs.

We know very well that not even R$600 is enough for a family to live on for a month, given the price of food and the price of gas. So the BRL 600 per family is covered, plus the idea of ​​BRL 150 per child up to 6 years old.

We will go until December making this transition, the diagnosis, a consistent document for President Lula. The team that takes over will have this information and the analysis of what to do. A public policy has to be transparent, fair, consistent and predictable.

And CadÚnico is the same thing. We don’t even know, when you say that families were divided, how many are there, where are they? What time was this? Why that? It is very difficult for us to announce or reach any conclusion without having this consistent database.

Regarding Bolsa Família, one of the issues is whether the benefit should have an automatic readjustment for inflation. Another would be to end the possibility of a queue. Are these points important?

I don’t see them as exclusionary. It is one thing to have an income transfer program that has a criterion, as all income transfer programs have always had, of not being universal. Another thing is to ensure correction for inflation, so that you guarantee purchasing power, because that is the objective, that families receive minimally enough resources, and always stimulating other initiatives.

The vision is always to associate income transfer with other local development mechanisms, and for this very reason there is no need to queue. If it’s in the criteria, that was never a problem. We have always been updating the number of families eligible to receive Bolsa Família with the Budget. Of course, when you have a constitutional precept, you have more force, you have political and legal force.

Would associating the initiatives be the way out? This has always been listed by specialists as a point to be improved. How do you see the issue?

There are two aspects there. First, I don’t agree with this concept of an exit door. I think that the front doors need to be secured, and all Brazilian families have to have the space, the opportunity, the structure, the assurance of their rights. The way out is a guardianship, it seems that it is a nuisance, that the government itself has to get rid of the families assisted.

The other thing is that we obviously seek protagonism, participation, autonomy, greater access and integration of public policies. That’s right. The more we invest, convince, adopt this perspective of intersectionality, the better.

In the sense of giving conditions for them to seek autonomy?

Exactly, exactly. It continues to be the function and task of the State, of the public power, to create, stimulate, facilitate, favor that families have access to education, qualification, initiatives to build alternative income, productive inclusion, solidary economy, so many initiatives that are possible.

But it is not enough that it is only the federal government, that is where state and municipal governments come in. That is why it is inadmissible for the federal government to try to do things without the participation of states and municipalities. And I have no doubt that this dismantling of public policies has everything to do with this, with this rupture of the federative pact.

Will the Ministry of Social Development be recreated?

It probably won’t stay as it is, because the Ministry of Citizenship ended up being a very diffuse machine. I personally do not advocate that it remain so.


Born in Londrina (PR), she is a social worker and teacher. Graduated in social work from the State University of Londrina, she has a master’s degree in the same area from PUC-SP. She was already councilor and municipal secretary of Social Assistance in the municipality of Londrina. She held different positions in the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger during the Lula government, reaching the highest post of minister in 2010.



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