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Brazil’s Cultural Coupon Benefits the Poor

A new program in São Paulo, Brazil is providing the working poor in Brazil with access to art and entertainment. This “cultural coupon” is awarded monthly and has a value of around $20. Vale Cultura, as it is known, can be used for a wide range of cultural experiences including theatre and movie tickets, books and art classes.

In an interview with the Guardian, Culture Minister Marta Suplicy said, “We want people to go to the theatre they wanted to go to, to the museum they wanted to go to, to buy the book they wanted to read.”

The goal is not only to enrich the lives of Brazil’s poor, but also to create consumers of cultural media.

The cultural coupon is only part of a larger strategy in Brazil for combating poverty known as Bolsa Família. Bolsa Família fights extreme poverty by providing poor Brazilians with monetary transfers onto a magnetic card. The program focuses on families whose monthly incomes are between $17 and $34 and supplements their income anywhere from $5 to $33 per month.

It might seem culturally adverse in the United States to consider direct monetary aid to the poor, but Bolsa Família’s results are undeniable.

According to the World Bank, “BF has been key to help Brazil more than halve its extreme poverty – from 9.7 (percent) to 4.3% of the population.” The project now aids approximately 14 million families and has put a dent in the transference of poverty from one generation to the next.

The cultural coupon seeks to build on the success of Bolsa Família by expanding the government’s ambition. Currently, the program is only available to people who earn well more than Brazil’s minimum wage, but the program looks to extend its reach to over 42 million people.

Currently, the program is extremely popular with many businesses (small and large alike) that offer Vale Cultura cards to their employees. Still, program representatives remain levelheaded with their expectations and argue that cultural participation and inclusion will be a slow process.

With that said, Brazil still faces many difficult challenges in its fight against poverty. Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura have made a substantial difference in the lives of millions of Brazilians, but their success should not mask the realities of extreme need.

The World Bank estimates that 13% of the population lives in poverty. Particularly in rural areas poverty maintains a firm hold. People in rural areas remain far from aid and are often adversely affected by deforestation and corporate monocropping.

Programs like Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura aim to strengthen the most vulnerable Brazilians.

– Chase Colton

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post, World Bank, World Bank News, World Bank Countries
Photo: Hanneorla Hanneorla