About 4 percent of all U.S. children are being raised by their grandparents, many of whom are older than 65 and living in retirement, according to a report that aggregates government data.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a foundation dedicated to helping underprivileged children, prepared the report. It says grandparents and other relatives who take on the full-time care of children rarely get the money and other support available to them through several government programs.
If you are one of the many grandparents who have taken on the responsibility of rearing their grandchildren, you owe it to yourself and them to get financial help. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculates that the monthly cost of raising one child is $990. That's a big chunk out of almost anybody's wallet, especially someone whose retirement planning didn't provide for these kinds of expenses.
There are two major sources of government cash assistance -- foster care benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
The foundation says that in most states, almost all children living apart from their parents are eligible for about $249 per month per child in TANF benefits, even if the grandparent or other relative they are living with earns too much money to be eligible themselves.
If you are a grandparent -- or otherwise related to the child or children you are caring for full time -- you don't have to have legal custody or guardianship to apply for assistance on a child’s behalf. If your own income is low, you also may be able to qualify for additional TANF benefits for yourself.
If the child you are raising doesn't have health insurance, he or she likely will qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
If it looks like you will be caring for your grandchildren for a lengthy period of time, it might behoove you to apply to be a foster parent. This is a more formal arrangement than kinship care. Foster parents are eligible to receive about $511 per month in benefits per child -- possibly more.
The foundation says many grandparents are never able to get either kind of assistance because they get tangled up in the legal issues. Many make too much money to afford free legal care but can't afford to pay a lawyer themselves.
If this is your situation, a good place to turn is the local Area Agency on Aging. This program gets federal funds earmarked specifically for supporting grandparents and other relatives age 55 and older who are raising children.
Don't just struggle. Get what you and the children deserve.