Maricá one step from Universal Basic Income

Maricá one step from Universal Basic Income

The original article in Portuguese can be found here.


Eduardo Galeano said, mentioning the words of Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birre, that no matter how much a person walks, he or she will never reach utopia. Precisely because of this, its value would be in encouraging the walk towards it.

Following the concept adopted by BIEN’s charter since 2016, a policy that is intended to be a UBI must have five characteristics: periodic, paid in an appropriate medium of exchange (currency), individual, unconditioned and universal. Maricá, a Brazilian municipality in the state of Rio de Janeiro, decided to walk towards the UBI through solid steps.

The first one was taken through Municipal Law n. 2,448/2013, regulated by Decree n. 213/2013, which deals with the implementation of the “Bolsa Mumbuca Social Program”, a policy of cash transfer in monthly payments of 70 units of “Mumbuca”. However, it was still a program aimed only at the poorest families, with monthly family income of up to one minimum wage (R$ 1,045.00; US$ 200.00, in current values), to which it imposed some conditionalities, largely related to the education of children.

It is important to highlight that Mumbuca is a local digital currency whose name is a reference to the main river and to one of the native peoples of the city. A unit of Mumbuca is equivalent to R$ 1.00 (US$ 0.19). It cannot be converted directly into cash but can be used by means of a magnetic card in any of the registered commercial establishments, only in the municipality of Maricá. Currently, there are in Maricá more machines used for transactions with the digital currency than the similar equipment of the large card operators.

In December 2015 the second step was taken. Trough the Municipal Law n. 2,652/2015, regulated by Decree n. 125/2015, the “Bolsa Mumbuca” was replaced by the “Mumbuca Minimum Income” (MMI), which paid 85 Mumbucas per month to families who had monthly income of up to three minimum wages (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00). It followed as a program aimed at the poorest families, but now without the conditionalities imposed until then.

On the same date as the second step, the third was taken. Parallel to the MMI, the Municipal Law n. 2.641/2015, regulated by Decree n. 124/2015, created a program called “Citizen´s Basic Income” (CBI), which monthly destined 10 Mumbucas to all individuals born in Maricá and living there for at least one year, to other Brazilians living in the city for at least two years and to foreigners living there for at least five years. Although the law provided that the CBI would be granted regardless of the socioeconomic condition of the beneficiary, it also provided that such coverage would be achieved in stages, at the discretion of the Municipal Executive, prioritizing the most needy sections of the population. Thus, CBI’s implementation began targeting individuals registered with the Single Registry of the Federal Government (CadÚnico), to which can have access low-income families that have per capita family income of up to half a minimum wage (R$ 522.50; US$ 100.00) or total monthly family income of up to three minimum wages (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00).

In June of last year, through the Municipal Law n. 2.869/2019, Maricá took the fourth and most ambitious step until now, increasing the value of the CBI from 10 to 130 Mumbucas (US$ 25,00) per individual and absorbing, among other social programs, the MMI, which until then paid 85 Mumbucas per household. With this change, the benefits that until then reached 14,000 families began to serve more than 42,000 people out of a total population of 161,000 individuals, with the short-term goal of reaching the 50,000 people in the city registered in the CadÚnico. Additionally, the same law changed the minimum period of residence of national citizens in the Municipality, requiring three years regardless of where in the country they were born, keeping unchanged the period of five years for foreigners.

As an exceptional measure to contain the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of the CBI was transitionally changed from 130 to 300 Mumbucas (US$ 60.00), as of April 2020 and for a period of 3 months, according to Municipal Law n. 2,921/2020. Additionally, the year-end bonuses in the amount of 130 Mumbucas were advanced to make the April payment an amount of 430 Mumbucas per person.

Thus, the CBI of Maricá is not a temporary experiment, but a regular policy, paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, individual and unconditional. The Program has been closely monitored by the Brazilian Basic Income Network and the municipality is preparing to take the final step by 2022, which will abolish means testing and make the CBI a universal measure for all those who meet the minimum period of residence in the city.

As the character Raphael Hythloday said to the incredulous Peter Giles in Thomas More’s book, “if you had been in Utopia with me, and had seen their laws and rules (…) you would then confess that you had never seen a people so well constituted as they.” Would Maricá be near to contradicting Eduardo Galeano? Or would the Brazilian municipality be close to demonstrating, through laws and rules, that UBI is not an unreachable utopia, but a perfectly feasible social construction?

Maricá one step from Universal Basic Income

Maricá a um passo da Renda Básica Universal

Eduardo Galeano dizia, lembrando as palavras do cineasta argentino Fernando Birre, que por mais que uma pessoa caminhe, jamais alcançará a utopia. Justamente por isto, o seu valor estaria em incentivar a caminhada em direção a ela.

Seguindo o conceito adotado pelo estatuto da BIEN desde 2016, uma política que se pretende RBU deve ter cinco características: periódica, paga por meio de um apropriado meio de troca (moeda), individual, incondicionada e universal. Maricá, um município brasileiro do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, decidiu caminhar em direção à RBU por meio de sólidos passos.

O primeiro foi dado por meio da Lei Municipal n. 2.448/2013, regulamentada pelo Decreto n. 213/2013, que trata da implementação do “Programa Social Bolsa Mumbuca”, uma política de transferência de renda em pagamentos mensais de 70 unidades da moeda social “Mumbuca”. No entanto, ainda se tratava de um programa destinado apenas às famílias mais pobres, com renda familiar mensal de até um salário mínimo (R$ 1.045,00; US$ 200,00, em valores atuais), às quais impunha algumas condições para o seu recebimento, em grande parte relacionadas à educação das crianças.

Importante destacar que a Mumbuca é uma moeda social cujo nome é uma referência ao principal rio e a um dos povos originários da cidade. Uma Mumbuca equivale a R$ 1,00 (US$ 0,19), mas não pode ser convertida diretamente em dinheiro, e sim utilizada por meio de cartão magnético em qualquer dos estabelecimentos comerciais cadastrados, apenas no município de Maricá. Atualmente, já existem em Maricá mais máquinas utilizadas para transações com a moeda social do que os equipamentos similares das grandes operadoras de cartões.

Em dezembro 2015 foi dado o segundo passo. Com a Lei Municipal n. 2.652/2015, regulamentada pelo Decreto n. 125/2015, o “Bolsa Mumbuca” foi substituído pela “Renda Mínima Mumbuca” (RMM), que destinava 85 Mumbucas mensais às famílias com renda mensal de até três salários mínimos (R$ 3.135,00; US$ 608,00). Seguia como um programa destinado às famílias mais pobres, mas agora sem as condicionalidades até então impostas.

Na mesma data do segundo passo, foi dado o terceiro. Paralelamente ao RMM, a Lei Municipal n. 2.641/2015, regulamentada pelo Decreto n. 124/2015, criou um programa denominado “Renda Básica de Cidadania” (RBC), que destinava mensalmente 10 Mumbucas a todos os indivíduos nascidos no município e nele residentes a no mínimo um ano, aos demais brasileiros residentes no mínimo dois anos na cidade e aos estrangeiros residentes há pelo menos cinco anos em Maricá. Embora a lei previsse que a RBC seria concedida independentemente da condição socioeconômica do beneficiário, também dispunha que tal abrangência seria alcançada em etapas, a critério do Poder Executivo Municipal, priorizando-se as camadas mais necessitadas da população. Assim, a RBC iniciou-se destinada a indivíduos cadastrados no Cadastro Único do Governo Federal (CadÚnico), ao qual podem aceder a famílias de baixa renda que ganham até meio salário mínimo (R$ 522,50; US$ 100,00) por pessoa ou até 3 salários mínimos (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00).

Em Junho do ano passado, por meio da Lei Municipal n. 2.869/2019, Maricá deu o quarto e mais ambicioso passo, aumentando o valor da RBC de 10 para 130 Mumbucas (US$ 25,00) por indivíduo e absorvendo, entre outros programas sociais, o RMM, que até então pagava 85 Mumbucas por família. Com esta alteração, os benefícios que alcançavam 14 mil famílias passaram a atender mais de 42 mil pessoas, de uma população total de 161 mil indivíduos, com o objetivo imediato de chegar às 50 mil pessoas da cidade inscritas no CadÚnico. Adicionalmente, a mesma lei alterou o prazo mínimo de residência de cidadãos nacionais no Município, passando a exigir três anos independente de em qual ponto do país tenha nascido, mantendo inalterado o prazo de cinco anos para estrangeiros.

Como excepcional medida de contenção dos impactos da pandemia de COVID-19, o valor da RBC foi transitoriamente alterado de 130 para 300 Mumbucas (US$ 60,00), a partir de abril de 2020 e pelo período de 3 meses, conforme a Lei Municipal n. 2.921/2020. Adicionalmente, os bônus de final de ano no valor de 130 Mumbucas foram adiantados para fazer o pagamento de abril um valor 430 Mumbucas por pessoa.

Deste modo, a RBC de Maricá não se trata de um experimento temporário, mas sim uma política regular, paga em um adequado meio de troca, individual e incondicionada. O Programa vem sido acompanhado de perto pela Rede Brasileira de Renda Básica e o Município se prepara para, até 2022, dar o último passo, que abolirá os testes de meios e fará da RBC uma medida universal a todos que atendam o prazo mínimo de residência na cidade.

Como disse o personagem Raphael Hythloday ao incrédulo Peter Giles na obra de Thomas More, “se tivesses estado comigo em Utopia, terias visto suas leis e regras por ti mesmo, (…) admitirias livremente que nunca viste em lugar algum um povo de tão reto ordenamento quanto o deles”. Estaria Maricá próximo de contrariar Eduardo Galeano? Ou estaria o município brasileiro prestes a demonstrar, por meio de leis e regras, que a RBU não é uma utopia inalcançável, mas sim uma construção social perfeitamente factível?

Brazilian Emergency Workers Aid: the short-term response that exposes a structural problem.

Brazilian Emergency Workers Aid: the short-term response that exposes a structural problem.

When, at the end of February 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was registered in Brazil, unemployment, job insecurity and poverty were already very well established in the Brazilian social structure. In January 2020, the rate of unemployment among the Brazilian population was 11.2%. According to data from 2018, 25.3% of the residents in Brazil lived in poverty and only 43.4% had some income from work. This was the scenario found and aggravated by the pandemic.

After a strong social mobilization, Law 13.982 was published on April 2, 2020, creating the Emergency Workers’ Aid (EWA), an exceptional social protection measure to face the health emergency. (The EWA is sometimes called an Emergency Basic Income, but it ought not to be as it does not fulfil the definition of a Basic Income).

Although the text of the law tries to induce the idea that the benefit is intended exclusively for workers who have lost their source of income during the pandemic, in the end this is not an eligibility requirement, since the EWA reaches even those who have long been in a situation of economic vulnerability.

In sum, the EWA is a payment of R$ 600.00 (US$ 115.00) per month to the person over eighteen years old, who does not have an active formal job, is not the holder of another social security or welfare benefit (except for the Bolsa Família), has monthly per capita family income of up to half a minimum wage (R$ 522.50; US$ 100.00) or total monthly family income of up to three minimum wages (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00) and has not earned income above the income tax exemption range in the 2018 fiscal year. No more than two people from each family may receive the benefit. The law also recognizes the condition of special vulnerability of the woman provider of a single-parent family, granting her the value equivalent to two quotas of the aid (R$ 1,200.00; US$ 230.00).

On May 14, Law 13,998/2020 made some changes to the EWA, among which is its extension to mothers under 18 years of age. Amendments that extended access to the benefit, mainly by withdrawing the requirement of proof of income in 2018, were vetoed by the President of the Republic after being approved by the National Congress.

As for its coverage, at the beginning of the implementation of the EWA the government estimated that it would reach 54 million people. However, after 2 months 107 million applications had been submitted, of which 59 million were approved and 42.2 million were considered ineligible.

It should be noted that implementation is facing serious problems on the part of the Government. This has motivated the Brazilian Basic Income Network, along with 161 other organizations that support the measure, to prepare a report about the 20 main obstacles to the implementation of the EWA , among which is the delay in analyzing the applications submitted and the denial of applications without providing a valid justification.

It should be noted that the law provides that the benefit may be extended by the President of the Republic while the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 lasts. However, the Government gives signs that, if it extends the EWA, it intends to do so with a monthly amount equivalent to one third of what is currently paid.

This whole context has raised to another level the public discussion about the importance of a right to income security and the respective public policy to ensure it, which transcends the conjunctural situation caused by the pandemic and leads several segments of society to seriously consider permanent policies, such as the Citizen’s Basic Income, approved by the Law 10.835/2004 with all the characteristics of a Universal Basic Income, but never fully implemented.

A local experiment

Maricá, a coastal town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, is experimenting with a local currency income-tested benefit for its own population. Articles about the experiment are available in both Portuguese and English. The articles use both ‘Universal Basic Income’ and ‘basic income guarantee’ terminology. Because the payments are only being paid to poorer households, and are therefore not a Basic Income, the use of this terminology is confusing. However, this is an important experiment, and it will be interesting to hear about its effects.