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Expanding Agency for People with Disabilities in Brazil Institutions

Extension of an Important Disability Benefit is an Opportunity for Empowerment

A girl with a disability in the walled yard of an institution for people with disabilities in Rio de Janeiro. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

This week, Brazil’s Congress overturned a presidential veto and reinstated legislation expanding access to an important monthly social pension, the Benefício de Prestação Continuada (BPC). Guaranteed under Brazil’s constitution, the BPC is granted to persons with disabilities and older people who cannot support themselves independently or with assistance from their families and is equivalent to the federal monthly minimum wage. President Bolsonaro had vetoed the bill improving access to the BPC.

According to available data, as of June 2019, 4.5 million low-income people received the BPC, including 2.5 million people with disabilities. This week’s reform will likely increase the number of people with disabilities and older people eligible to receive this key financial benefit.

As the government expands the BPC, it should also ensure people with disabilities living in institutions can receive it and have control over spending it. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch found that many people with disabilities living in institutions who receive the BPC are not able to manage it directly because they have been deprived of legal capacity, or the right to make decisions for themselves. Some people with disabilities who are institutionalized cannot access this benefit, even when they are entitled. Instead of having in place support mechanisms for people with disabilities to decide what to do with their benefit, institution directors, who act as guardians of people living there, often manage these resources at their discretion, without transparency or accountability.

The government should therefore conduct a comprehensive review to ensure all persons with disabilities living in institutions who are eligible to receive the BPC can receive and manage this benefit themselves with appropriate support and oversight mechanisms. Federal, state, and municipal authorities should also use the BPC benefit to help support people to live independently. This should be accompanied by plans to move people with disabilities out of institutions and ensure they can decide where and with whom to live in the community, instead of being compelled, because lack of options, to live in institutions.

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