President Lula signs a Provisional Measure to help Rio Grande do Sul; Families affected by flooding will receive aid of up to US$1,480

Friday, May 17, 2024
Info Source: 
Matheus Alves de Almeida | Brasil de Fato | São Paulo | Edited by: Thalita Pires | Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha | Original URL: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2024/05/17/president-lula-signs-a-us-1480-aid-measure-for-families-in-rio-grande-do-sul

'100% of the people will have their homes back,' says Ruy Castro, Brazil's Minister of the Civil House

On Wednesday (May 15), President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva signed a Provisional Measure at the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos, in the city of São Leopoldo, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, creating the Extraordinary Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic for the Reconstruction of Rio Grande do Sul. The secretariat, which has the status of ministry, will be headed by Paulo Pimenta, previously in charge of the Secretariat for Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil (also known as SECOM).

During the ceremony, ministers announced a series of measures to support the population of Rio Grande do Sul in the current emergency and rebuild their lives.

Among the highlights is the creation of the Reconstruction Voucher, worth BRL5,100 (US$ 993), to be paid to all families whose homes were affected by the disaster. The amount will be paid by Caixa Econômica Federal through Pix, an instant payment system used in Brazil.

Eduardo Leite, governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, announced the payment of BRL2,500 (US$487) to families registered in the Volta Por Cima program, created in 2023 to help victims of atypical weather events.

According to Leite, for families who are not in the program but were left homeless, the amount to be paid will be BRL2,000 (US$389). The amounts paid by the state will be added to the Reconstruction Voucher created by the federal administration. 

“[It will be an] aid for people who have lost their refrigerator, stove, television, furniture and mattress,” said Brazil’s Civil House Minister Ruy Costa during the announcement. It will be up to the national Civil Defense, in partnership with the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Defense and municipal or Social Assistance secretariats, to inform whose areas were affected so that people can receive the benefit,” he explained.

According to Costa, Caixa has already been asked to collect data from the energy, water and telephone companies, as well as all the federal and state government registers, to check the self-declared addresses of those seeking the voucher.

The amount to be spent on the federal government benefit is estimated at BRL1.2 billion (US$233,9 mi), to be accessed by more than 200,000 families.

Strategy to deliver new housing

Minister Ruy Costa also spoke about a series of measures to make it easier for people who have lost their homes to access housing. “100% [of the people affected] will be guaranteed their homes back,” he said.

The first action will be to look for assisted purchases of properties that fit into bands 1 and 2 of the My House, My Life program (meaning families whose total monthly income ranges from US$514 to US$857). “If you're in a shelter, you can already look for a property for sale in your city or town that meets this standard,” said the minister.

Also as part of this strategy, Rui Costa said that the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad, has suggested creating a public call for real estate agents and construction companies to report properties for sale within the program's profile.

Defaulting properties that would have been auctioned off by Caixa or Bank of Brazil in the municipalities affected by the flooding will have their debts paid off by the federal government, and will also be sent to the people of Rio Grande do Sul.

According to Rui Costa, “600 houses that were going to be auctioned have already been withdrawn and are ready to be handed over [to people in need of them]." The properties are located where mayors have already reported housing shortages to the Ministry of Cities.

The government also plans to acquire properties suitable for the housing program and those under construction or already completed by construction companies. According to the minister, there are 14,000 homes already identified in the affected cities and towns that meet the requirement, 600 of which are ready to be handed over to new residents.

In a third strategy to meet the housing demand, proposals sent to My House, My Life in 2023 that were not selected due to the program's state quota could be used.

As a last resort, a new call for proposals for the program could be made in municipalities where demand is not met by the previous tactics.

My House, My Life also has the option of renovating unused buildings, such as old hospitals and schools, to make them residential. Minister Rui Costa encouraged mayors to identify these spaces and inform the federal government.

More economic measures aimed at the population

The federal government had already announced the early payment of the Family Grant (Bolsa Família, in Portuguese), which has now been scheduled for Friday (17). This internationally renowned aid launched in 2003 during Lula’s first presidential term provides low-income families with a monthly payment. 

During the ceremony, Rui Costa also said that Social Development Minister Wellington Dias had visited shelters and incorporated 21,000 families into the Family Grant program so that they could have immediate income.

The early payment of income tax refunds for the people of Rio Grande do Sul has been scheduled for May 31st. Exceptionally, refunds will be paid to part of the population before the deadline for submitting their income tax returns.

It was also announced that the 2024 Salary Allowance payment schedule would be brought forward to May.

To help middle-class families and individuals, the government had previously announced a series of measures to facilitate access to credit, including for small rural producers and micro and small companies.

People from affected municipalities, whether in a state of calamity or public emergency, will be able to withdraw up to BRL6,200 (US$1208) from Brazil’s Severance Indemnity Fund (FGTS, in Portuguese) in advance. The mandatory 12-month interval between emergency withdrawals has been abolished to make it easier for those who have already been victims of the climate tragedy in the Taquari Valley to access the benefit.

Public accounts

Rui Costa announced that, by order of President Lula, interest on Rio Grande do Sul's total debt will be zeroed out. Previously, the government had mentioned suspending debt collection.

The minister recalled that the state has one of the largest investment difficulties in Brazil: it is the 4th most indebted in the country.

“President Lula has restored Rio Grande do Sul's investment capacity,” said Costa. “Rio Grande do Sul is no longer in last place. In the next three years, it could be among the eight or nine Brazilian states with the most capacity to make investments.”

Eduardo Leite, however, also spoke of the need to allocate resources to replace tax losses. “We've asked for this to be put on the radar of the Ministry of Finance and President Lula,” he said. “We will need resources to help offset tax losses.”

Concerning municipalities, Secretary Paulo Pimenta pointed out that the government is releasing emergency funds to help build shelters and provide prompt assistance to the population.

To receive financial aid, municipalities simply have to submit a letter to the government. The amount is established according to how many residents each city has: BRL200,000 for cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants; BRL300,000 for cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants; and BRL500,000 for cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants. 

According to Pimenta, more than BRL100 million (about US$19.49 mi) has already been distributed for emergency actions in 75 cities that have expressed their interest to the government.

Rui Costa also spoke about the reconstruction of cities after the rains and stressed that all city halls can now organize the list of lost public facilities. “We're not going to wait for the last mayor [to inform us]. As soon as [the requests] are sent, the solutions will be forwarded,” he said.

The Brazilian Chief of Staff also stressed the importance of reconstruction plans covering measures to prevent new disasters. According to the minister, the government is putting together all the plans for “building dams, dykes, pump systems, drainage channels” to assess their feasibility, impact and possibility of implementation.

Health

Brazil’s Health Minister Nísia Trindade announced that 1.2 million vaccines have been sent to the state for diseases associated with flooding, such as hepatitis, rabies and measles. Emergency kits were also sent, along with supplies such as gauze and adhesive plaster.

The amount earmarked for emergency health actions reported by the minister is BRL63 mi (almost US$ 12.28 mi). “But there is a much larger amount that involves the mobility of SUS [Brazil’s National Health System]” she said. 

BRL816 million (almost US$159.4 mi) will also be earmarked for renovations and the construction of Basic Health Units (UBS, in Portuguese) and hospitals. The minister said that 346 proposals from municipalities have already been registered.

The number of UBS destroyed is close to 300, according to the minister. Reconstruction will be supported by the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC, in Portuguese).

Trindade pointed out that there are three field hospitals set up to support the state, as well as hospitals set up by the army, in addition to the care provided by professionals in the shelters.

The minister also dedicated part of her speech to refuting disinformation recently published about health in Rio Grande do Sul. “There is no shortage of medicines in our relationship with state and municipal departments. Nor are there any shortages of vaccines,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are the victims of criminal disinformation leading to panic in society.”

At the end of her speech, Trindade sent a message to the previous management of the ministry she currently heads. “The Ministry of Health is once again doing what it should always have done and failed to do during the pandemic, which is to coordinate the entire national effort to save lives and build a future of health for all.”

Measures taken by the National Council of Justice

Luís Roberto Barroso, President of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF, in Portuguese) and of the National Council of Justice (CNJ, in Portuguese), announced that the council has earmarked BRL123 million (US$ 24 mi) of amounts deposited in the court, which had a discretionary destination, for Rio Grande do Sul.

He also announced the deployment of judicial police in the state and the creation of a monitoring committee made up of three judges from Rio Grande do Sul to observe local needs.

Disinformation and climate change

Minister Nísia was not the only one to mention disinformation during her speech. “It is impossible not to condemn the abominable wave of disinformation and fake news about what is happening and what is being done,” said Supreme Court Minister Barroso.

Lula praised the Brazilian people's ability to stand in solidarity even in the face of disinformation campaigns. “It's possible, despite the disgusting fake news, the vandals who don't do politics, who don't discuss politics, who only want to destroy.”

Barroso also spoke about the need to find solutions to climate change. “The nature has tragically chosen here [Ro Grande do Sul] to give this immense warning signal that climate change is no longer an abstract problem. It's a real problem that we need to tackle.”

São Leopoldo’s mayor, Ary Vanazzi, also spoke about the climate crisis. “This climatic phenomenon is happening again not only in Rio Grande do Sul. It’s the result of humanity's and society's disregard for the environment,” he said.

Lula talked about the need to build mechanisms to prevent new climate catastrophes. “The damage is double what it would have cost us [if we had] solved this problem once and for all,” he said.

To this end, Lula called for a union of powers, agencies and parties. “Although we are autonomous powers, we have to work as an orchestra,” he said. “Because exercising democracy is precisely the art of living with opposites.”