States should tap more federal dollars and redesign their welfare programs to help grandparents and other relatives who are raising millions of children whose parents can no longer care for them, says a new report released Wednesday (May 23).
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization, says that President Obama and Oprah Winfrey are among more than 2.7 million children in America who were raised by grandparents or other relatives at some time in their lives.
Less than 12 percent of these “kinship families” receive any support from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — the primary federal financial aid program for low-income families, although nearly all the children in such families are eligible, according to the foundation's new KIDS COUNT report.
Many full-time kinship caregivers are unfamiliar with available government support programs that could help, such as TANF, and many are unaware that they don't need legal custody or guardianship to apply for welfare assistance on a child's behalf, the report says.
Some states have increased the amount of monthly welfare cash assistance for kinship caregivers, which varies widely among the states — from $81 for one child in Arkansas to $577 for one child in New York. States also have eased some of the welfare requirements to make it easier for families to get help. Nearly half the states, for example, have removed work requirements and more than a dozen ignore time limits on cash assistance for older caregivers.
Washington State even allows unrelated caregivers, such as a friend or neighbor, to apply for TANF child-only assistance after undergoing a home study and background check.
States need to do more to get the word to kinship caregivers about the benefits and programs available to them, the report says. “Kinship navigator programs” are one way states can coordinate various public programs and spell out the various benefits, including TANF, food stamps, Medicaid, child care, housing assistance, foster care subsidies, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working caregivers, the report said. New Jersey and California are among states with such initiatives.
Requirements for becoming licensed foster parents, which aren't always applicable to kinship families, present additional hurdles to receiving the same benefits as non-relatives taking in children, the report says.
Twenty-one states also have not yet applied under another federal law to allow them to use federal funds to provide an ongoing payment so that eligible children can live permanently with relatives who obtain legal guardianship through the courts, the report says.
Robert Geen, director of family services and systems policy at the foundation, says that while many states have some of these policies, it's hard to point to any one state that has implemented all these recommendations. Even within a state there are differences. Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has a comprehensive program, he says, while that's not true for the entire state.