Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and several Democrat co-sponsors have added to the legislation piling up this session to help grandparents and other relatives caring for the children of loved ones.
The Grandfamilies Act aims to enable kinship caregivers to more easily access federally funded safety net programs on behalf of children.
“All across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grandparents caring for grandchildren continue to tell me that they need more help,” said Casey, in a statement announcing the bill. “I believe the federal government needs to do more.”
The bill hones in on two major benefits for struggling families: Social Security children’s benefits, and cash payments through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.
Children are eligible for Social Security benefits if a parent retires, dies or becomes disabled. This is meant to help youth and their caretakers through high school, and about 4.4 million children receive payments totaling $2.2 billion every month, according to the Social Security Administration.
But with very few exceptions, children who are raised by relatives collecting Social Security cannot qualify for benefits unless they are formally adopted. This bill would guarantee Social Security benefits to flow for children in the following circumstances:
- If the child is with the relative because the court ordered it.
- If the birth parent died or became disabled after the relatives became Social Security-eligible.
In either case, the child or children must have been living with the relatives before the age of 18, and for at least a year, with the exception of newborns. And the relative must document that they provide at least half of the child’s support.
The Grandfamilies Act would also knock down a few barriers for relatives trying to access TANF “child-only” payments to help support children placed in their care. The bill would hold them harmless from income and assets tests, ban any work requirement from being placed on caregivers, and eliminate the current five-year cap on TANF child-only payments.
The bill would also establish a two-year, $20 million grant program to help set up “Grandfamily Housing” programs, through which supportive services and equipment would be furnished to grandfamilies through a housing provider.
The Grandfamilies Act is one of several bills in the hopper as legislators build the case for more and better investments in relatives as child welfare systems prepare for the Family First Prevention Services Act to take effect. The major overhaul of the Title IV-E child welfare entitlement includes new funds to help prevent the use of foster care in some cases, but it is expected the relatives will have to provide temporary care for children in many instances.
The Help Grandfamilies Prevent Child Abuse Act would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the central federal law on preventing and investigating abuse or neglect. This new bill would require that grantees of CAPTA funds “include plans for prioritizing placement with kin as the first placement, identifying and engaging kin as supports for children throughout the child’s involvement with the child welfare system, making it a priority to license kin as foster parents, supporting permanent families for children placed with kin, and creating a strong community network to support kin families.”
The Supporting Caregivers Act would make changes to the National Family Caregiver Support Programs (NFCSP), which is overseen by the federal Administration for Community Living. NFCSP allocates grants to be used in support of family who take in relatives. The funding flows through local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA).
Meanwhile, a bill introduced in both the House and Senate would greatly widen the ability of states to draw federal funds for foster care, while also offering several provisions aimed at easing state transitions to the Family First Act.
The Grandfamilies Act bill, which was introduced in late May, is co-sponsored by Democrat Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.). Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) has introduced a similar bill in the House.
“Grandparents are increasingly taking on the role of primary caregivers for their grandchildren, something we are seeing in New Hampshire largely as a result of the fentanyl and opioid epidemic,” said Hassan, in a statement. “We must ensure that these grandparents have the resources they need to provide the necessary care to their grandchildren. By providing grandfamilies with greater access to resources like Social Security children benefits and more streamlined supports and services, this legislation is vital to those efforts.”