By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian presidential frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is looking to gradually boost the country’s main welfare program, starting with an extra 18 billion reais ($3.47 billion) if he is elected in October and the budget allows, an aide told Reuters.
Lula, who launched the iconic Bolsa Familia welfare program as president from 2003 to 2010, has given few details to back up his vows to expand the current system, rebranded Auxilio Brasil by his electoral rival, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro boosted Auxilio Brasil payments for the poorest Brazilians to 600 reais a month through the end of this year, from 400 reais previously. Both he and Lula promise they will find funding to maintain the more generous payments in 2023, at an annual cost of some 160 billion reais.
Beyond that, the leftist Lula, who leads far-right Bolsonaro by double digits ahead of the Oct. 2 election according to most opinion polls, is looking for ways to expand the program, said former Social Development Minister Tereza Campello.
“Our first priority would be finding resources to secure the payments of 600 reais,” said Campello, who is leading studies for Lula’s new welfare proposals. “After that, we are proposing a project that would come step by step”.
One of the first priorities would be variable stipends based on family size, such as an extra monthly payment of 150 reais per child up to 6 years old. That per-child stipend would boost the program’s cost by about 11.5% to 178 billion reais ($34.38 billion), she said.
Campello stressed that any expansion would come in stages, depending on space in the 2023 budget, as Lula’s economic team works to understand the state of public finances.
“We still don’t know the real fiscal situation”.
($1 = 5.1883 reais)
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)