WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-S.C.), along with Chairman Bob Casey (D-Pa.), held a hearing titled “Strengthening Support for Grandfamilies during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond.” During the hearing, Sens. Scott and Casey, along with Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), unveiled their new legislation, the Informing Grandfamilies Act, to help support grandparents raising children. The bill would require states to communicate directly with grandparents who apply for assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provide information about additional support.
Ranking Member Scott also sent a letter to the Department of Education, along with Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, requesting information on the academic performance and mental health of students who were raised by grandparents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the witness panel was Kim Clifton, MSW, executive director of Charleston HALOS, a non-profit serving grandparents and other relatives who are raising children.
On cost issues kinship caregivers face … “Programs meant to assist people with critical needs of health care, financial assistance, and food are lifelines for our [grandfamilies], but they can be challenging to navigate. As COVID-related Medicaid and enhanced SNAP benefits end, access to food and health care for many of our [grandfamilies] are at risk. Additionally, affordable child care is not accessible by most kinship families, particularly those outside of the foster care system. Inclusion of kinship families and those receiving child care assistance would [ensure] that caregivers can continue working or have much-needed respite time knowing that the children in their care are safe.”
On supporting grandfamilies … “Grandparents step in because they love their grandchildren, but they need support. Navigation programs need to be consistently available throughout every state. Grandparents often neglect their own care to ensure that [their grandchildren] have what they need. They need respite and access to health and mental health services. Policy services and systems that touch kinship families should ensure that they remove barriers to access for kinship caregivers so that all children, including the nearly 3 million in kinship care across the nation, can flourish.”
Sen. Scott questioned Ms. Clifton on her experiences working with grandfamilies in South Carolina.
Sen. Scott: “I would love to just have you talk with us about the child care experiences in South Carolina from a grandparent's perspective and explain how [the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization Act] could provide more resources.”
Ms. Clifton: I think it's really important. One of the biggest challenges that kinship caregivers and grandfamilies face is finding child care. Often it's associated with the need to work, and caregivers are forced to quit jobs because they don't have child care. … And it puts enormous financial pressure on these families when they can't work and don't have the alternative to keep a job because they don't have child care. So I think the enhancement adding kinship families and the [grandparents] over 65 would be an enormous benefit to families.”
Sen. Scott: “[Could you] help us understand how South Carolina, through things like the Informing Grandfamilies Act, could provide more support to raising grandchildren?”
Ms. Clifton: “I think that would be an enormous benefit. Right now, often grandparents don't even know they can access TANF and that can be very cumbersome trying to apply. We deal with many families that get rejected, and then we help them navigate the system and advocate because they are eligible regardless of income through child only grants. But if they were given more knowledge about community resources, any resources, any benefits they may be eligible for, it would be great because what we know is kinship caregivers and grandfamilies, grandparents raising grandchildren, are less likely to know about resources even when they exist.”