Gabriel Cepaluni

Senior Global Challenges Fellow
Period of Stay: 
October 2019 - March 2020
Public Policy
São Paulo State University (UNESP-Franca)
Project Title: 
How Political Competition Fuels Conditional Cash Transfer Programs: The Case of Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program
Project Abstract: 

The Brazilian social welfare program Bolsa Família represents the world's largest conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. Its stated objective is to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of poverty by incentivizing families' investments in their long-term human capital. Upwards of 26.5 million needy families are provided monthly cash allowances from the federal government, conditional on compliance with children’s vaccinations schedules and sustained enrollment of children in school. Central to this conjecture is an acute appreciation for the incentives and political ambitions of local political brokers. Bolsa Família is a federally funded non-discretionary CCT program, explicitly designed so as to prevent targeted redistribution for politicians' political ends. At the same time, the program devolves to municipalities significant control and responsibility for program implementation, including overseeing enrollments, local database administration and monitoring compliance, with broad discretion as to how said goals are accomplished. Municipal governments face no fiscal responsibility for enhanced enrollments in Bolsa Família, though local brokers may easily claim credit for the provision of a targeted public good, and may have few incentives to faithfully monitor compliance. To evaluate our central hypothesis, we analyze household and individual-level data from the Cadastro Único from the Ministry of Social Development. Our research has the advantage of being the first and only (known) investigation of the full records of the Cadastro Único, which includes household and individual level information on both applicants and recipients of the Bolsa Família program (N=79.7 million individuals' records).