Bolsa Família and Oportunidades: Powerful Tools for Poverty Alleviation in Latin America

Bolsa Família and Oportunidades are conditional cash transfer programs that were launched in Brazil and Mexico respectively. In 2012, Oportunidades assisted 6.5 million families and Bolsa Família assisted over 13 million families. Both of these government programs provide grants to families and individuals based on poverty conditions and vulnerability, with requirements that promote education amongst children, better health and nutrition, and medical checkups. For example, Bolsa Família requires that all children enrolled in this program attend at least 85% of classes, otherwise payments are suspended. In addition, Oportunidades provides education grants, cash transfers for school supplies, food support programs, and calorie free supplements for infants according to the Oportunidades main website.

Each program has a different method of keeping track of grant recipients. For example, Bolsa Família distributes debit cards to each household and maintains a large database of transactions which allows this program to build metrics, promote transparency, and target the most needy. One of the most interesting facts is that these grants are preferentially awarded to female heads of household. More information for each program can be found on their main websites:

Bolsa Família (Portuguese):

Oportunidades (English):

Each of these programs has been very successful. According to the Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FGV) “the number of Brazilians with incomes below 800 reals ($440) a month has fallen more than 8% every year since 2003. The Gini index, a measure of income inequality, fell from 0.58 to 0.54, a large fall by this measure.” In addition, about one-sixth of poverty reduction in Brazil has been attributed to Bolsa Família. The major accomplishment for Oportunidades in rural areas has been increasing the duration of education by a year for an age group in Mexico associated with a high return in the labor market in Mexico according to Amanda Glassman, Senior Social Development Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank.

Both programs have had many accomplishments, but it is also important to take into account the challenges that these programs are facing. According to the Economist, some critics believe that these programs erode incentives to work, and that the money sometimes goes to the wrong people. One challenge for Bolsa Família has been the reduction of child labor in cities. There is an economic incentive for these children to work instead of attend school because the family grant may not be adjusted for cost of living. This may be part of the reason that the higher percentage of families receiving grants from Bolsa Família are from rural areas, but unfortunately some of the worst poverty levels can be found in the largest cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro according to the aforementioned Economist article. Some of the challenges that Oportunidades is facing are: lack of a family feedback mechanism, demand is surpassing the capacity of the supporting institutions, lack of transparency to beneficiaries, and the potential of political mishandling of funds as of 2005 (as mentioned in the DFID Health Systems Resource Centre article).

No human development program is without its flaws and weaknesses. It’s important to take all of these factors into account when measuring the success of a program, and deciding what strategy to take for future initiatives.

Supporting Links:,2173.html?videoID=9096&keywords=&tags=&page=1&topicID=pore&countryID=

Click to access 5_ningenda.pdf

About Benjamin Rene Garcia

CLASS President - Energetic, Game Changer, and Cornell MPA Graduate Student
This entry was posted in Brazil, CLASS, Latinos in the US, Mexico, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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