Chilean president Sebastian Piñera signed this week a bill which grants a special ‘March-bonus’ to low-income families and is extensive to seven million people. Each beneficiary will receive the equivalent of 85 dollars which will represent for the Treasury an outlay of 208 million dollars.
The bill was approved in Congress last March 20 and becomes effective 8 April. The March-bonus comes at a very appropriate moment since in March the school year begins in Chile and families must face additional costs such as registration fees, uniforms, books and other implements, insurances and other issues.
But it could also mean a boost for the ruling conservative coalition which next November faces a general election when Chileans will decide who succeeds President Piñera, the most unpopular leader of the country since the return of democracy in 1990, although a very efficient administrator.
His coalition is not doing well in opinion polls and is trailing the coalition that has ruled Chile since 1990 with the exception of the last three and a half years. This is particularly challenging since former president and the first woman head of state in Chile Michelle Bachelet has thrown her hat into the ring. Although her coalition lost to Piñera she stepped down as the most popular president in recent years.
“Because we have sown with effort, today we can reap with responsibility” said President Piñera in a cultural centre to the southeast of Santiago an area of low income working families.
“A bonus in the month of March comes at the right moment to help families with school children, and that is why we decided this was the month, because Chile can and the families need it”, added Piñera.
All families that receive standing government benefits such as family subsidy, ethical family income or child allowance are entitled to the March-bonus of 40.000 Chilean Pesos (approx 85 dollars) plus 16 dollars for each child below the age of 18.
The March-bonus also included this time 293.538 families defined as belonging to the “emerging middle class” that have Social protection and a family income of 1.3 million Pesos a month (approx 2.754 dollars). This means that the month of March will be smiling for over 7 million Chileans.
Chile has a population of 17.2 million with a GDP of 270 billion dollars and a per capita income of 18.400 US dollars. According to official stats 15.1% of the population is below the poverty line (making below 2 dollars per day).
The presidential election is scheduled for Sunday 17 November 2013 with a run off on 15 December if none of the candidates manages an absolute majority in the first round. Sebastian Piñera is barred from seeking immediate re-election.
This will be the first presidential election in Chile in which all eligible voters will be automatically enrolled, and where voting will not be mandatory.