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The minimum income of the coronavirus revolutionizes the poorest Brazil, but it does not save from the streets in São Paulo

Patrícia Nataline de Oliveira and her son, Maycon.Marília Camelo

There are many Brazilians impacted by the minimum income of the coronavirus established by the Government of Jair Bolsonaro in April. The same program that fails to guarantee the rent of Jocelino da Silva Lima, an emigrant from the State of Ceará, in the megalopolis of São Paulo, allowed his countrywoman Patrícia Nataline de Oliveira, a farmer, to install Wi-Fi in her home thousands of kilometers away. that has no running water. The experiences of these two residents of Ceará during the pandemic portray the abysmal difference that pay makes in the vast and unequal Brazilian territory.

Created to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, the program has already benefited in some way half of the families and reached 67 million people. The average income of the beneficiaries is even better now than before the health crisis: they gained about a third (34%), according to a study by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. However, this improvement is not linear. The effect was much greater in the impoverished northern and northeastern states than in rich São Paulo. “What we see is to what extent the country is poor and very unequal,” analyzes researcher Lauro Gonzalez.

The pay, which has been 600 reais (95 euros, 110 dollars) during these months, has just been extended until the end of the year, but its amount will be reduced by half. The president wanted to extend it anyway with his eyes set on the November municipal elections, given that his popularity has increased notably despite his criticized management of the pandemic.

In March, the coronavirus crisis took the job of Da Silva Lima, 47, who worked at a cleaning services company in São Paulo. Without salary, he had to leave the studio that he rented for 600 reais and stayed on the street with three changes of clothes in a red bag. “It is a very sad situation, I sleep where I can. Sometimes on cardboard. I also try to get rooms in shelters. My life became a daily search for a place to sleep, ”he says while eating the rice with chicken that is distributed daily by the Provincial Movement of the Homeless Population.

Not even the 600 reais of the minimum emergency rent, which he began to receive in April, was not enough for him to get a ceiling. “When I received the first installment, I thought about trying to rent a place again, but the money would just run out of the rent. There would be other bills and food. We do not know how long the Government will continue to pay, they have already said that they will reduce it, so it becomes even more difficult to get something, “he said days before the extension

The minimum emergency rent, originally created to last three months (April, May and June) and extended for two more (July and August) has now been extended until the end of the year. The Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, advocated going from 600 to 200 reais, but Bolsonaro has achieved the 300 he wanted at least.

Without knowing how long he will remain unemployed, da Silva Lima only uses the money in emergencies, such as on the very cold nights of the São Paulo winter, when he pays a pension of 12 reais. The man from Ceará explains that his three children, who live in Fortaleza, have no idea that he is homeless. “They are already married, they have their own life and they will already have difficult times. I can’t ask for help from those who are already trying to survive, ”he says. The biggest problem is looking for a job when you don’t have a fixed address. “There is great discrimination. If I say that I live on the street, they don’t accept me ”, he explains. “I started giving the address of an acquaintance. Without work, how am I going to get a fixed place to live? ”, He adds.

As he struggles to get out of unemployment –which affects more than 12 million Brazilians– and get a roof over his head in São Paulo –more than 24,000 did not have one in 2019–, he wakes up every day hoping for better times. “I think the pandemic is like a rain that is going to pass. And I’m going to get a job soon. You have to be patient. Everything needs to return to normality, and see that my normality was also living in need ”.

Having wifi for the first time

Almost 3,000 kilometers from the metropolis, the life of 31-year-old farmer Patrícia Nataline de Oliveira was always marked by deficiencies. Before the pandemic, she, her husband and two children lived on less than 400 reais per month, combining the sales of what was left over from the garden, cleaning work and the 250 reais from the Bolsa Familia aid program for the poor. They live in Aracoiaba, a city in the interior of Ceará of about 25,000 inhabitants where a fifth depends on income transfer programs and whose main sources of work are limited to small internal businesses and some clothing factories. You don’t pay rent, but you don’t have outlets to work on your own and “make money.”

He never thought that his life could change so quickly because of an act of the government, but, four months ago, he lives the unimaginable. Thanks to the minimum emergency income of 1,200 reais (her pay and that of her husband), the family income tripled, despite the fact that the plantation reduced its production due to the arrival of the droughts. A study of Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) shows that the emergency minimum income program has a greater positive impact on the poorest households in Brazil, whose average incomes are now 124% higher than usual before the crisis. The effects this woman feels are even more positive than average.

“The farmer was always forgotten and had to learn to get ready to live, that’s where that pandemic came and they created this pay, which helped. The Government is now fulfilling its obligation to improve our lives ”, he analyzes. De Oliveira was already preparing to return to the wood fire when he began to receive aid and managed to maintain gas service, even with the expensive carafe, at 80 reais. She also installed Wi-Fi at home for the first time – where not even the mobile signal reaches – so that she and her children could continue with the public school classes, now broadcast on WhatsApp. “And fruit was always the hardest thing to get to eat at that time of year, because it doesn’t rain, the land dries up and nothing we plant comes out, but now we are drinking a lot of juice because we can buy fruits in the market”, bill.

The family lives in a house without running water. To bathe and clean the house, she has to carry buckets from the community dam, or else draw water from the cistern, which should be used only for drinking. With no rain since June, the house’s cistern is almost dry. The minimum rent also helps her to buy masks and alcohol gel to protect herself, in a place far from the city that only has a doctor in the health center once a month.

From the window of his house, he “zaps” news on his mobile phone. In recent weeks, I was closely following every news about the possible end of the aid. “There are people who say they are giving us money so that we don’t have to work anymore and that we don’t contribute to the country,” she says. She was concerned about Bolsonaro’s vagueness. “If it goes back to the amount it was before, it will be worse than it was before. Whoever the president is, we need to have something to eat, “he argues.

De Oliveira avoids attributing the improvement in recent months to the president, whose popularity has grown in the Northeast, where Lula’s Workers Party has won elections many years ago and where the emergency minimum income is improving the lives of the poorest. and increasing your purchasing power. It wants lasting stocks, while fearing a collateral effect: suddenly being left with less purchasing power than before the crisis.