While Alaska is the only place in the world with an ongoing basic income program, they are not the only jurisdiction to have shown interest. Brazil actually has a law mandating the progressive institution of a basic income program.
The law was introduced by Senator Eduardo Suplicy of the Brazilian Workers’ Party in 2001. He had previously introduced a bill to create a Negative Income Tax model of a guaranteed livable income, but that bill failed to pass. This second bill called for a universal basic income program to be progressively instituted, beginning with those most in need.
The bill was approved by the Senate in 2002 and by the Chamber of Deputies in 2003. It was signed into law by President Lula da Silva in 2004. The bill leaves implementation in the hands of the President.
No progress has been made toward implementing a basic income since then.
However, Brazil does have an interesting, albeit conditional, income security program for the poorest Brazilians. The Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant, was created in 2003 by merging 4 existing cash transfer programs. It could be used as a stepping stone to a basic income program, even though it was not created with that intention.
The Bolsa Familia is paid to 11 million of Brazil’s poorest families, which means that the money reaches 46 million people. It has contributed to a reduction in inequality, although it is not the only factor. Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world, has made astonishing progress in reducing inequality since 2001. In the last five years, the incomes of the poorest Brazilians have risen 22%, compared to only 4.9% for the richest Brazilians.
The program has also had a significant positive effect on the number of children in school, while decreasing the number of children in child labour.
The program has two aspects. Extremely poor families, those with a monthly per capita income of 60 reais or less (R$2 is equal to approximately US$1), receive a basic benefit of R$62 per month. They also receive variable benefits for their children, R$20 per month per child for their first three children, plus R$30 per month per 16 or 17 year old, to a maximum of two.
Meanwhile, poor families – those with a monthly per capita income of R$120 or less, receive only the variable benefits for their children.
The grants are based on a number of conditions. Children must be in school, attending at least 85% of school days, and they must receive all of their immunizations. Pregnant women must receive pre-natal care.
The program currently includes 85% of Brazil’s poorest families. Some are excluded because they repeatedly failed to meet the conditions, while other poor families struggle with the issue of identification. This is one of the reasons why Senator Suplicy is still campaigning tirelessly to see the Bolsa Familia turned into a true basic income program.
Earlier this year, President Lula announced that an additional 1.3 million families will be added to the program in response to the recession.
Senator Suplicy is also hoping to start a basic income pilot project, similar to Namibia’s, in Brazil. The project would begin next July, when the Basic Income Earth Network’s biannual conference takes place in Brazil. President Lula has already accepted an invitation to speak on the opening day of the conference.