Responses from Latin America and the Caribbean to the COVID-19 crisis in the new special issue of the Policy in Focus magazine 

Mother and daughter shopping during COVID-19 pandemic, Chile.


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean, in the beginning of 2020, countries of the region—as many others worldwide—have seen themselves facing a two-fold challenge: tackling the global health crisis pandemic while also trying to avoid collapsing into an economic depression. 

The second section of the newest issue of the Policy in Focus1 magazine highlights social protection responses from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) to the social and economic crisis resulting from the pandemic.  

Brazil has implemented the largest income transfer programme of its history, in terms of both the number of beneficiaries and the size of the allocated budget. As Nilza Yamasaki (National Secretary of the Single Registry) and Fabiana Rodopoulos (National Secretary of Citizenship Income) argue in the article  “Emergency Aid: The Brazilian response to an unprecedented challenge”, that “the Ministry of Citizenship faced many challenges before starting to pay these benefits: creating the legal framework and institutional arrangements; allocating extraordinary resources to the new benefits; constructing a governance structure; signing contracts with executing institutions; and designing a payment system for different types of target groups”.  

They also highlighted the importance of promoting the integration of official databases, such as the Single Registry, a federal database that identifies and characterises the low-income segments of the Brazilian population and functions as the backbone for its social programmes. 

Cash transfers were also adopted by Chile, together with programmes to protect sources of employment such as the Ley de Protección al Empleo (Employment Protection Law) and Subsidios al Empleo (Employment Subsidies). 

“In times of emergency, the role of the State is fundamental to avoid or reverse the setbacks that families may suffer, so we have strengthened a State that is at the service of its people through a considerable social protection network that includes various instruments designed to protect the health, income and employment of households in times of emergency”, explains Alejandra Candia, Sub-secretary of Social Evaluation at Chile’s Ministry of Social Development and Family in the article  “Tools to protect families in Chile: A State at the service of its people”. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, cash transfer programmes already covered 2.5 million households in Colombia. Today, 89 per cent of poor and vulnerable households, about 5.9 million households, receive at least one transfer from the national government. This rapid response package was accompanied by other initiatives to support the poorest family units, such as the distribution of food parcels. 

The Director of Social Development of the National Planning Department in Colombia, Laura Pabón, states in the article  “Colombia’s experience in addressing the COVID-19 crisis” that an outcome of the pandemic in her country was “the implementation of a master database, which is a first step to the creation of a national social registry, should include household information as well as information on national and regional benefits received; in addition to a significant progress towards banking inclusion. Around 851,000 beneficiary households accessed the financial system for the first time through digital products”. 

To learn more about social protection responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean click here.



1 What's next for social protection in light of COVID-19: country responses is a special issue of the Policy in Focus magazine that aims to disseminate key discussions of the global e-conference Turning the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?” held in October 2020 by the platform, in partnership with the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). For more information on the magazine, read the summary of all articles.  

Photo: FAO America/Max Valencia