By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A rumor that the Bolsa Família anti-poverty program was set to close led to hundreds of thousands of families withdrawing the state benefit over the weekend. Caixa Econômica Federal, the state-run bank that organizes the Bolsa Família, said R$152 million (around US$75 million) had been taken in some 900,000 withdrawals, the majority of which had taken place in Brazil’s north and northeast regions, as well as Rio state.
The rumor said the benefit was going to be suspended in twelve states and that it would be accessible for just one further day.
Caixa branches in Ceará state were reportedly worst hit; branches in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense region were also badly affected. The banks have since returned to normal operations.
President Dilma Rousseff called the actions “inhumane and criminal” and promised an investigation, while insisting the program would not be closing. The Ministry of Social Development also issued a statement denying the rumor.
The benefit is normally withdrawn on a set date each month, depending on the individual’s card number. However, due to the chaos caused by thousands of families descending on Caixa branches, the government allowed those who had come to the bank to take their payment early in order to avoid further problems, O Globo newspaper reports.
Under the program, which was implemented by former President Lula and has been running for over ten years, poor families receive cash provided their children have been vaccinated and are attending school.
The program has been credited with contributing toward a large reduction in poverty in Brazil, but others question whether cash handouts are a long-term solution to poverty, attributing the recent reduction of poverty to the country’s economic growth.
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