Capacidades estatais no programa Bolsa Família: o desafio de consolidação do sistema único de assistência social

Available from: 
August 2013

By: Diogo R. Coutinho Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP)

In a slow process marked by authoritarian moments, regressive effects, bureaucratic insulation, centralized arrangements and cronyism, since the 1930s Brazil has been building its Welfare State. In the wake of struggles and political clashes for ensuring rights and reviving democracy, the Constitution of 1988 brought about an important shift, as it established economic and social rights and outlined a new legal and institutional framework for social policies. Among other provisions, the 1988 Constitution also established specific guidelines for the social assistance field (i.e., a non-contributory universal policy intended to meet basic needs based on the offer of public services and payment of income). Early in the decade of 2000, concurrently with the construction of the new social assistance system, the Bolsa Família program (PBF) was created and launched. Compared to the track record of the Brazilian social policies, PBF adopted new management arrangements, instruments and methods and has accounted for a portion of the equity gains (reduced poverty and inequality) experienced in the 2000 decade.

This paper analyzes the PBF from the point of view of its political and institutional arrangement - that is, the set of rules, organizations and processes that define the way stakeholders and interests are coordinated in the implementation of a specific public policy. In particular, it considers the program from the perspective of its dynamic relationship with the social assistance field, discussing the connection between the political and institutional arrangements of these two policies “at the end” (i.e., at a local level) and on the “top” (i.e., at a federal level). To that end, it draws on the categories of administrative capabilities (associated to the dimension of effectiveness) and political capabilities (associated to the dimension of legitimacy) and gets input from interviews with officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger (MDS).

The underlying assumption is that the PBF has an ambivalent relationship with the social assistance policy - this is because although it presents a very peculiar institutional arrangement, as well as an independent legal framework, PBF assumes a hybrid nature at the local level, with social assistance and its subdivisions, especially in small and underprivileged towns (the vast majority in Brazil). Therefore, PBF largely depends on the social assistance framework so that it can be organized and institutionalized in most Brazilian cities, although it is quite distant from the social assistance framework at the federal level of management (the “top”). In conclusion, I argue that in the process of consolidation of the Brazilian System of Social Assistance (SUAS), stronger coordination and synergies between the PBF and the field of social assistance demand further attention, and are translated into significant challenges. Examples taken from the city councils of social assistance and national conferences of social assistance are then discussed to show how technical and administrative capabilities can reinforce each other and help institutionalizing policies.


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