Global success stories of the Conditional Cash Transfer Program
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-01-11

Our legislators deserve praise for funding the Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCT) of the President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) administration which will be operated through the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development).

Two recent posts of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Tina Rosenberg — January 3 (“To beat back poverty, pay the poor”) and January 7 (“Helping the World’s Poorest for a change”) — in the New York Times (NYT) provided convincing case histories of how the CCT Program works. Tina Rosenberg is credited for winning a Pulitzer Prize for her book: “The haunted land: Facing Europe’s ghosts after Communism.” A former editorial writer for the NYT, Rosenberg is now a contributing writer for the NYT Sunday Magazine.

The first case history Rosenberg cited was the successful CCT experience of Brazil. Brazilian Favelas (slums) had become iconic for poverty. She noted that until recently, Brazil was one of the most unequal countries in the world where one part can look like ritzy Southern California while the other part looks like Haiti.

Rosenberg wrote: “Today, however, Brazil’s level of economic inequality is dropping at a faster rate than that of almost any other country. Between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians. Poverty has fallen during that time from 22 percent of the population to 7 percent.” Indeed, the Brazil poverty reduction experience is a dramatic success story.

Several factors had contributed to the Brazil poverty reduction success story, but Rosenberg gave one particular program center stage attention and spotlight — the CCT.

“The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow,” Rosenberg wrote.

She added: “Brazil is employing a version of an idea now in use in some 40 countries around the globe, one already successful on a staggeringly enormous scale. This is likely the most important government antipoverty program the world has ever seen. It is worth looking at how it works, and why it has been able to help so many people.”

Explaining the Mexico CCT success story, Rosenberg wrote: “In Mexico, Oportunidades today covers 5.8 million families, about 30 percent of the population. An Oportunidades family with a child in primary school and a child in middle school that meets all its responsibilities can get a total of about $123 a month in grants. Students can also get money for school supplies, and children who finish high school in a timely fashion get a one-time payment of $330.”

“Bolsa Familia, which has similar requirements, is even bigger. Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programs were begun before the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he consolidated various programs and expanded it. It now covers about 50 million Brazilians, about a quarter of the country. It pays a monthly stipend of about $13 to poor families for each child 15 or younger who is attending school, up to three children. Families can get additional payments of $19 a month for each child of 16 or 17 still in school, up to two children. Families that live in extreme poverty get a basic benefit of about $40, with no conditions,” She added.

Rosenberg cited a World Bank report that the CCT program is now found in 14 Latin American countries and in about 26 other countries.

Per Rosenberg: “In Mexico today, malnutrition, anemia and stunting have dropped, as have incidences of childhood and adult illnesses. Maternal and infant deaths have been reduced.” She added: “But the most dramatic effects are visible in education. Children in Oportunidades repeat fewer grades and stay in school longer. Child labor has dropped. In rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school has risen 42 percent. High school inscription in rural areas has risen by a whopping 85 percent. The strongest effects on education are found in families where the mothers have the lowest schooling levels. Indigenous Mexicans have particularly benefited, staying in school longer.”

Directed at doubters, Rosenberg said: “Here are programs that help the people who most need help, and do so with very little waste, corruption or political interference. Even tiny, one-village programs that succeed this well are cause for celebration. To do this on the scale that Mexico and Brazil have achieved is astounding.”

The Focolare Economy of Communion experience proved that “Only the poor can help themselves, but not alone.” The CCT Program aspires to help the poor help themselves.
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