We conducted a large household survey in a region of the Amazon estuary in Brazil to investigate the dependence of small farming households on government cash transfers and to identify the main factors that lead to better livelihood outcomes. The study examined the factors that contribute to heterogeneous household livelihoods and patterns of dependence on cash transfer programs. Multinomial logistic regression was used to evaluate household attributes affecting the level of dependence on cash transfers. Results indicate that households engage in a diversity of livelihood strategies, and vary in dependence on cash transfers. Lower levels of dependency are associated with higher levels of education and income from off-farm activities as well as larger property sizes and holdings in the várzea. Recognition of the causes and potential range of dependence on cash transfer programs adds decision-making capacity for policy makers seeking avenues to reduce dependence and increase program effectiveness.