brewer family reading books"You have another person to feed...There's clothing to be purchased, and with a teenager that's important, especially a girl...lessons to be paid for...and with grandparents, what makes it more difficult is that you're on a set income. So everything that goes out is going out; there's nothing coming back in."
       --Jacqui Batie, grandparent

"There are a lot of ongoing expenses that I had kind of forgotten you have to put out when you're raising children. And y'know, your dollar doesn't go as far now as it used to."
       --Fred Brewer, grandparent

Financial Challenges

You don't have to be a grandparent to know what it costs to raise children today. For most families, it's an endless budget battle. And try doing it on a fixed income! Some grandparents who are parents spend their retirement savings, go back to work, lose their homes, and risk alienating their grown children by spending whatever "inheritance" they might have left.

There are a few sources of assistance that grandparents should consider. If you have problems obtaining them, keep trying. "You can't take 'no,'" says grandparent Jacqui Batie. "If one person says, 'I don't have an answer,' or 'I don't know,' or 'No, we can't do that,' you don't stop. Be a bulldog."

  1. Legal Aid: The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Administration on Aging allocates some federal money for low-cost legal advice, such as legal hotlines and Legal Aid attorneys. However, the Older Americans Act specifies only 10 percent of the money may be allocated for grandparent caregivers, and requires that it be used to help persons age 60 or older. Many grandparents simply aren't "old enough" to qualify.

    Despite these restrictions, if you feel certain you cannot afford an attorney on your own, your local Legal Aid office is a good place to start asking questions. In Idaho, there are seven Idaho Legal Aid offices. The national Senior Legal Hotline number is 1-866-345-0106 and the Web site is: www.idaholegalaid.org.

  2. Medicaid: Children under age 19 can qualify for a Medicaid card for government-subsidized health care. Medicaid does not consider the income of the person raising the child, only the child's income. (Most children don't have any income, although any child support you receive from their parents counts as income.) Each state has its own Medicaid program, supervised by the federal government. A good place to start is the Web site of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: www.cms.hhs.gov/medicaid/consumer.asp.
  3. CHIP Insurance: Most states will ask you to apply for Medicaid first. If Medicaid does not cover the children, you can try CHIP (in some states, it's called SCHIP), which stands for "State Children's Health Insurance Program." Its coverage of children is similar to Medicaid. Some states use the same form for both programs -- you fill it out, and they tell you which program your grandchildren are eligible for. Find the phone number for your local CHIP program by calling 1-877-543-7669, or go to this Web site: www.insurekidsnow.gov.
  4. The TANF Grant: Grandparents may apply for this federal money, which is administered by individual states' welfare offices. TANF stands for "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families." Again, it is based on the child's income, not yours. But the $309 a month isn't much, and is a flat amount no matter how many children you are raising.

    The TANF Grant is very controversial because the government attempts to recover the money by collecting child support from the children's parents. Many grandparents say this angers their grown children, prompting them to take the grandchildren back rather than pay child support. In fact, a majority of grandparents don't apply for the grant because they don't want to risk the problems that seem to come with it.

  5. State Subsidies: Some states have Guardianship Subsidies, over and above the TANF Grant funds. The rules and amounts vary widely. You'll find a complete list of them on the "Grands Place" Web site.
  6. Parents: If the children's parents balk at paying "official" child support, perhaps they will agree to pay you as grandparents a certain amount for expenses, every month or every paycheck. Parents who are employed can also keep their children on their health insurance policies, with the child's Medicaid card used only as a "back-up." Whatever you do, get these promises in writing -- preferably drafted by an attorney -- and made part of your guardianship agreement.
  7. Income Tax Breaks: There are some tax benefits associated with raising children. You may qualify for Child Care Tax Credits, and may be able to file as "Head of Household," which lowers your overall taxable income. Ask an accountant or the Internal Revenue Service what might be available.