Brazil's lower house approves bill allowing renewal of pandemic aid to poor families

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved the basic text of a bill on Thursday that revives a federal cash transfer program to help millions of poor families whose incomes have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure will allow emergency stipends totaling up to 44 billion reais ($7.96 billion) to be paid to low-income Brazilians over the next four months, with recipients expected to get an average of 250 reais per month.

The chamber cast 366-127 votes for the constitutional amendment in a second of two rounds of voting, more than in the first-round when it was approved by 341 votes.

Brazil’s Senate passed the amendment last week.

The aid package will not be subject to the government’s usual fiscal rules, but the bill includes counter measures delivering fiscal savings in the coming years to mitigate the impact on fragile public finances.

Economy Ministry and central bank officials, as well as investors, have warned that any increase in spending must be matched by savings elsewhere in the budget to show the government’s long-term commitment to reducing its record debt.

The government’s emergency aid to millions of poor families last year totaled some 322 billion reais, worth around 4.5% of GDP, and expired on Dec. 31. It ensured the economy’s 4.1% slump last year was nowhere near as bad as many had originally feared, but it also fueled a record budget deficit and public debt.

($1 = 5.5311 reais)

Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Chizu Nomiyama