< In Brazil, Millions Fall Back Into Poverty as Pandemic Aid Ends
By Anna Matteo
04 April 2021

In Brazil, a single mother of six children and the country's leader are almost neighbors. But Tatiana Araujo de Sirqueira and President Jair Bolsonaro seem to occupy different universes.

She lives beside a landfill along with 36 other families. Their shelters are less than a kilometer and a half away from the president's home in the capital, Brasilia. Sirqueira makes money by selling trash, or waste materials, for reprocessing.

She is one of an estimated 40 million Brazilians called "invisibles," or unseeable people. The term was created by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes for poor people who have no official employment.

Sirqueira works in waste recycling. She lives near Planalto Palace in Brasilia. (REUTERS/Adriano Machado)
Sirqueira works in waste recycling. She lives near Planalto Palace in Brasilia. (REUTERS/Adriano Machado)

"I live beside the president. I see him and his security (forces) pass by here every day," said Sirqueira. She talked to Reuters news agency recently at her small shelter on a hot, dusty day.

"How can he pass here every day and not see the families here?" she asked.

Last year, however, Sirqueira was not invisible. From April to December, she and some 66 million other Brazilians received money from the government's largest ever financial aid program.

Almost $60 billion was provided to the poor to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis. The emergency aid program decreased poverty and increased Bolsonaro's popularity.

However, the aid program ended in 2020 and the people it helped are suffering again. The poverty rate is rising again, and the president's popularity is shrinking.

Sirqueira depends on a government assistance program called the ‘Bolsa Familia.' It provides up to $36 a month, about one-third of the amount she received from the 2020 emergency program.

Last year's emergency aid program was about 322 billion reais, or $58 billion. A smaller, less costly COVID-19 aid program begins this month.

But Sirqueira will not get any of that assistance. She has been dropped from the program, officials informed her.

"They said I no longer met the criteria and so I can no longer be part of the program," she said. With six children to raise, she added that her life has gotten much more difficult since being denied.

Millions of Brazilians like Sirqueira were briefly lifted out of poverty. The research organization Getulio Vargas Foundation reports that Brazil's poverty rate dropped from 11 percent to 4.5 percent in 2020.

But now, the researchers say, about 27 million people, or 12.8 percent of the country's population, live below the poverty line.

As of March 31, Brazil's total population is about 213 million people.

Guedes, the economy minister, and other financial advisors expressed opposition to COVID-19 emergency financial aid. They say the program hurts Brazil's public finances and financial markets.

The smaller COVID aid program may not do much good, says Joao Saboia. He is a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

"The prospects for 2021 are very poor, said Saboia, "slow vaccination, a stagnant economy, rising unemployment and high poverty."

And Sirqueira faces even greater trouble. Local officials are pushing to move her family from Brasilia to a nearby city. She has resisted their efforts, worrying about how a move would affect her children.

But now, that resistance may be gone. On Tuesday, the government destroyed her shelter.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Jamie McGeever reported this story for Reuters. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

landfill – n. a system of trash and garbage disposal in which the waste is buried between layers of earth to build up low-lying land

criteria – n. a standard on which a judgment or decision may be based

prospect – n. the possibility that something will happen in the future : an opportunity for something to happen

stagnant – adj. not active, changing, or progressing

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