Bolsonaro signs decree extending emergency aid to Brazilians

BRASILIA – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday signed a decree to extend an emergency stipend to informal workers cushioning the blow of the COVID-19 crisis, keeping alive a popular program that has added to concerns about a surging government deficit.

The monthly stipend of 600 reais ($110), previously set to expire this month, has provided a lifeline to struggling Brazilians and a bump to Bolsonaro’s popularity among the poorer voters he has traditionally struggled with.

However, presidential advisers including Economy Minister Paulo Guedes have warned that emergency spending during the pandemic cannot stretch on indefinitely, pointing to national debt that may soon exceed gross national product.

Aides to Guedes have proposed that a total stipend of 1,200 reais could be paid in three installments of 500, 400 and 300 reais, while some lawmakers have argued that the emergency aid should be extended until the end of this year.

The presidential decree signed by Bolsonaro comprises two monthly payments of 600 reais, said Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower house of Congress.

The government has not yet released an official schedule.

The extension comes as authorities begin to ease social distancing restrictions despite alarming growth in Brazil’s novel coronavirus outbreak. The country has the second worst outbreak in the world behind the United States, with nearly 1.4 million confirmed cases and over 58,000 related deaths.