New Ministers Issue Severe Cuts to Key Social Programs

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In their first week in office, newly appointed ministers under interim President Michel Temer announced sweeping policy changes. These announcements included considerable cuts to social policies aimed at assisting low-income Brazilians, striking devastating blows to hallmark programs of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva and Dilma Rousseff’s administrations.

Minha Casa Minha Vida

Minister of Cities Bruno Araújo, appointed by acting President Temer last Thursday, announced early this week that he had revoked an ordinance authorizing the expansion of Minha Casa Minha Vida-Entidades program (MCMV-En), a complementary program of the Minha Casa Minha Vida program. The expansion sought to secure funding for the construction of 11,250 units for self-organized social movements that had requested housing assistance from the federal government. The measure had only been authorized on May 11, one day before the Senate voted to suspend President Rousseff from office, leaving it in a precarious position with President Temer’s administration.

Araújo cited the gravity of the economic crisis as the principal motivation for the cuts, explaining, “there are many bureaucratic as well as ideological limits that need resolving so that we can do more with less.” The Entidades program, while funded through Minha Casa Minha Vida, subsidizes initiatives (often cooperatives or occupations) rather than individuals, and has been heralded as a model for participatory housing solutions.

Then, on Friday, Temer declared an end to any new contracts for general Minha Casa Minha Vida housing, putting an end to 2 million new homes that had been set to be built by the Rousseff government by 2018.

Minha Casa Minha Vida is the largest federal housing initiative in Brazilian history, subsidizing the construction of over 2.6 million low-income housing units since 2009. It is also closely associated with the Workers’ Party (PT), as both President Lula and President Rousseff upheld the program as a testament to their commitment to providing housing for the working poor.

Growth Acceleration Program (PAC)

Reorganization within the Planning Ministry this week has also raised questions about the fate of the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC). The new Planning Minister, Romero Juca, announced Tuesday that the PAC Department has been terminated, merging it instead with the Department of Development and Infrastructure.

While Temer’s administration has refused to say whether this move is part of a plan to discontinue the program, President Temer did announce the creation of a new infrastrucuture initiative, the Growth, Employment and Income Generation Program, known as “Crescer” (Grow). Reports suggest that Crescer differs from PAC in its prioritization of formal sector jobs created with each project. It is unclear at this time whether infrastructure projects slated to receive PAC funds will be funded through Crescer. Temer also announced the creation of the Investment Partnerships Program (PPI), which aims to facilitate private sector investment in public works projects.

Bolsa Família

Following the fusion of Ministries of Social Development and Agrarian Development into what is now the Ministry of Social and Agrarian Development, the new minister, Osmar Terra, announced that the welfare program Bolsa Família would be cut by 10%. Approximately 13.9 million families currently benefit from Bolsa Família, making it the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world.

Human Rights and Culture

Alexandre de Moraes, the new Minister of Justice and Citizenship, created through the fusion of the Ministry of Justice with the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality, Youth and Human Rights, has pledged to consider forced repossession without the need for a court order as a way to evict urban occupations from public buildings. Moraes has previously called the actions of social movements “guerrilla warfare” and as Security Secretary in São Paulo, Moraes was accused of using police violence to suppress demonstrations and concealing crime data.

Further controversies in the last week include the dissolution of the Ministry of Culture, integrated into the Ministry of Education, which has caused widespread protests amongst artists, musicians and cultural producers. The new Education Minister, Mendonço Filho, had indicated introducing tuition fees for public universities but later denied this move. Similarly, the new Health Minister, Ricardo Barros, gave an interview in which he said that there “weren’t the resources to maintain” the public health system. He has since confirmed that there won’t be cuts to the service, but that it needs to be “managed better.”