Brazil Has No Money to Extend Covid Aid, Bolsonaro Adviser Says

President Jair Bolsonaro is unwilling to extend this year’s round of Covid aid beyond what’s been approved by congress because there’s no money left in the budget, according to a close adviser.

Minister Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro’s former chief of staff who took over as his secretary general last month, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to fiscal austerity and dismissed concerns about the president’s falling popularity in a broad interview Wednesday.

“There’s simply no money to extend Covid aid. It would blow up the spending cap rule and we can’t do it,” Lorenzoni said in his office at the presidential palace. “In order to increase or extend payments, congress would have to pass a new law allowing for additional outlays outside the spending cap, but there aren’t enough votes to approve that.”

Brazil Has No Money to Extend Covid Aid, Bolsonaro Adviser Says

Congress last week approved a constitutional amendment, known as the emergency bill, allowing the government to pay an average of 250 reais to about 40 million vulnerable Brazilians between April and June, at a maximum cost of 44 billion reais ($8 billion). Investors have been closely monitoring the possibility of additional public spending this year after the government posted a record budget deficit of 14% of gross domestic product in 2020.

Bolsonaro was supposed to personally hand lawmakers on Thursday a provisional measure detailing how he intends to distribute the Covid funds, but canceled the visit after a member of the senate died from the coronavirus and congress decreed 24 hours of morning. Sergio Olimpio Gomes, widely-known as Major Olimpio, is the third among Brazil’s 81 senators to die of the respiratory disease.

As a new and more devastating wave of the pandemic forces local authorities to impose the harshest lockdows yet, Brazil’s economic team is already considering the likelihood that this year’s cash handouts may last longer and cost more than initially approved, four government officials with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Read More: Brazil Covid Aid Likely to Be Extended Beyond Four Months

Bolsonaro, the people added, would likely push for more stimulus later in the year as he prepares to run for re-election in 2022.

‘Fake’ Polls

Yet Lorenzoni said Bolsonaro doesn’t take opinion polls into account when deciding his policies and is prepared to show the population all the government has accomplished during his mandate. The president’s personal disapproval rating rose to 44% in a Datafolha poll carried out between March 15 and 16, from 40% in January. His handling of the coronavirus crisis was disapproved by 54% of Brazilians, according to the survey, which was released on Wednesday.

“The surveys are fake, we never take them into consideration,” he said. “If it were for the pollsters, Brazil’s president would be someone else.”

On the same day Brazil posted a record of more than 90,000 new cases of Covid-19, Lorenzoni said that criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic is exaggerated because Brazil is a huge country, where numbers will always be “superlative.”

“Bolsonaro has given the best possible answer to a crisis that has decimated other countries,” Lorenzoni said, acknowledging that the government has had “some occasional difficulties.” In absolute numbers, he added, Brazil is one of the countries that have vaccinated the most.

Brazil has administered almost 14.5 million vaccine doses two months into its mass immunization campaign. That means about 5% of its 212 million population has received a first shot, and 1.8% have been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.

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