Grandparents and other relatives play an important caregiving role in family well-being, especially in low-income families. Many grandparents are financially responsible for meeting their grandchildren’s basic needs. These grandparent caregivers are disproportionately poor and disproportionately African American.
Families with grandparents who are caregivers have access to an array of public benefit programs. However, in some cases benefits are lower for grandparents and other family caregivers than they are for foster parents. Grandparents caring for grandchildren may be eligible for “child-only” welfare benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, regardless of the grandparents’ income and work status. Income-eligible grandparent households can receive additional SNAP benefits when a grandchild joins their household. However, the grandchild cannot receive SNAP benefits unless the entire household, including the grandparent, is eligible. Grandparents caring for a grandchild can also apply for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program for their grandchild, but their income is considered.
Grandparents and other family members raising children face substantial difficulties in negotiating the public benefit system. Some rules and program structures inadvertently discourage the creation of formal guardianships by grandparents and other family caregivers. Others produce significant hurdles for grandparents and other family caregivers to enroll children in school or obtain medical treatment for children (see also Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights—Intergenerational Cooperation).
ASSISTANCE FOR GRANDPARENTS AND OTHER RELATIVES RAISING CHILDREN: Policy
Goal of foster policy
Public-benefit programs should ensure that families headed by grandparents and other caregiver relatives receive sufficient support for economic security and well-being.
For households receiving multiple child-only grants from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the grant amounts should be equal for each of the children, rather than declining in amount for each additional child after the first as is now typically the case.
States, with the assistance of the federal government, should increase available benefit levels, adopt subsidized guardianship programs, and reduce the disparity between benefits paid to grandparents and other caregiver relatives versus benefits paid to foster parents.
For households headed by grandparents and receiving child-only grants under the TANF program, states should increase the size of such grants. For example, they should equal approximately 80 percent to 85 percent of the amount the state would provide a foster-care household.
Improving access to assistance
To allow grandparents and other caregiver relatives meet their obligations to the children in their care, states should pass legislation that makes it as simple as possible for the children to be enrolled in school and treated by medical professionals.
States should adopt navigator programs to make it easier for grandparents and other caregiver relatives to access available resources.