In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of grandparents who have taken on the role of raising their grandchildren. According to AARP, about 2.7 million grandparents in the U.S. are responsible for their grandchildren who live with them.
There are many reasons this trend is occurring – the opioid epidemic, parents’ job loss or other financial difficulties, mental health issues, incarceration, death, or abuse and neglect.
While being a grandparent caregiver can be rewarding, it also comes with many challenges. Most grandparents are not prepared for the sudden responsibility of raising young children again. Their lives are disrupted, and they must take on parenting duties, navigate legal issues, and make financial sacrifices. At the same time, they need to provide their grandchildren with a sense of stability.
Fortunately, there are benefits available to help make things easier for grandparents raising grandchildren. Programs exist on federal, state and local levels that provide assistance. This article will outline some of the key benefits that grandparents in this situation should be aware of.
One of the biggest hardships for grandparents raising grandchildren is the financial burden. Children are expensive and can put a strain on budgets that are fixed on limited retirement income. There are a few options for financial assistance.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal program that gives cash assistance to low-income families with children. Grandparents may apply for this program on behalf of the children they are raising. The cash benefits can help with basic needs like food, clothing, utilities, and shelter. The amount received depends on state limits, but averages a few hundred dollars per month.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the current name for food stamps. This federal program helps low-income individuals and families buy healthy food. To qualify, applicants must meet income eligibility guidelines. Households may qualify for between $100-500 per month depending on its size. Many grandparents raising grandchildren rely on SNAP to help feed the household.
Some states offer “child-only” grants, which are TANF payments made just on behalf of children being cared for by grandparents or other relatives. This can provide a few hundred dollars per month specifically to help meet the kids’ needs. These types of grants help ease the financial burden on grandparents.
Some states have subsidized guardianship programs. These provide financial assistance to grandparents who become legal guardians to their grandchildren. The benefits are often equivalent to what they would receive from foster care payments if the children were wards of the state. The programs help keep the grandchildren out of the foster care system.
There are some tax credits available that can provide “refunds” to grandparents raising grandchildren. These can help offset the costs. Options to look into include:
- Earned Income Tax Credit – A refundable tax credit for low to moderate-income working individuals/couples.
- Child Tax Credit – Parents and caregivers may qualify for up to a $2,000 credit per child under age 17.
- Child and Dependent Care Credit – Provides credit for childcare expenses for work-related purposes.
- Adoption Tax Credit – Offered in the year an adoption is finalized. Can be as much as $14,300.
Health Coverage Options
One of the concerns of grandparents raising grandchildren is making sure the children have adequate health coverage. There are options that can help provide coverage for kids being raised by relatives.
Medicaid and CHIP
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are public health insurance programs for low-income individuals. The children in a grandparent’s care may qualify for these programs that provide free or low-cost health coverage. This takes a huge worry off grandparents trying to afford medical bills and doctor’s visits for the kids.
Temporary Medical Assistance
Some states have Temporary Medical Assistance programs that pay for the first few months of Medicaid coverage during a transition period. This helps cover kids while long-term coverage is established.
Waivers of Premiums, Cost-sharing, Waiting Periods
There are certain provisions to help make it easier for children raised by grandparents to get Medicaid services. Some states waive premiums, cost-sharing, and waiting periods for these vulnerable kids. It helps ensure immediate and affordable access to health services.
In addition to financial help, various programs provide support services to grandparents raising grandchildren. These programs can connect grandparents with peer support and resources in their community.
Support groups help grandparents connect with others who understand their unique circumstances. Being able to share stories and strategies with those in similar situations can provide emotional support. The AARP sponsors support groups across the country.
Training and Counseling
Some agencies have caregiver training and counseling available to help grandparents adjust to their new parental roles again and rebuild family relationships. This can prepare them for the task of raising children a second time.
Many communities have respite care programs that provide temporary relief to caregivers of children. This gives grandparents a break so they can have time to rest and recharge.
Local legal aid organizations may offer pro bono legal help to assist grandparents navigating custody battles, adoption, or guardianship proceedings for the grandchildren in their care.
Kinship Navigator Programs
These programs have specialists who help “navigate” grandparents to resources and benefits available to them and the children they’re caring for. They make the process less confusing.
A few additional types of assistance that may be useful for eligible grandparents:
- Housing assistance such as rent subsidies or utility payments help
- Free/reduced school breakfast/lunch programs
- Childcare vouchers to help pay for daycare during work hours
- Respite care provided through Medicaid waiver programs
- Vouchers to help cover extracurricular activities for the children
- College tuition waivers for children raised by relatives
- Support from a social worker who specializes in kinship cases
There are many public assistance benefits and support programs available that grandparents in this situation may not be aware of. Help is out there, but grandparents usually have to be proactive in finding and applying for assistance. Here are some suggestions:
- Contact the Area Agency on Aging to learn about local resources.
- Find support groups through AARP, schools, churches, etc.
- Use BenefitsCheckUp.org to search for programs.
- Apply for TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, and other income-based programs.
- Reach out to kinship navigator programs.
- Consult social services agencies or a caseworker.
- Contact legal aid regarding custody issues.
- Check if the state has a kinship care ombudsman who can help.
The challenges of grandparents raising grandchildren are many. However, there are also a variety of benefits and supports available to help lighten the caregiving load. Seeking them out can help grandparents provide a loving home while getting the assistance needed to raise the children successfully.