By Maria Carolina Marcello

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s lower house on Thursday approved a bill that would create a broad social protection program known as Auxilio Brasil, replacing a previous program known as Bolsa Familia, which is a pillar of Brazilian social policy for almost two decades.

The bill will now go to the Senate where the leaders have promised to make the measure a priority.

Introduced by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, Auxilio Brasil would double the amount of social cash benefits paid to poor families in Brazil to 400 reais ($ 71.90) per month and increase the number of families covered to 17 million.

Bolsonaro’s government says the measure is necessary to help low-income Brazilians whose livelihoods have been strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, while opponents say the measure is a cynical ploy to increase their livelihoods. popularity in the run-up to the October election, which polls predict it would lose.

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Brazil’s lower house approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that spooked markets that effectively allows the government to exceed its spending cap to fund the measure.

The Auxilio Brasil bill was approved unanimously with 344 votes in favor.

Some sectors of the opposition expressed disappointment that Auxilio Brasil’s benefits were not indexed to inflation, which had been the subject of significant debate.

“How, ladies and gentlemen, can you not index this to inflation?” How can you not keep these payments up to date? Asked Marcelo Freixo, a left-wing legislator from Rio de Janeiro.

“Removing this is callous and inhumane in times of famine. “

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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