Financial and Legal Resources for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Jim Miller

 Dear Savvy Senior,

Are there any programs that you can refer me to that financially help grandparents who are raising their grandchildren? I’m raising two of my grandchildren and could use some help.

  • Tapped Out Tonya

 

Dear Tonya,

Money is a common problem for the nearly 2.4 million U.S. grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. To help with the day-to-day expenses, there are a wide variety of programs and tax benefits that can make a big difference in stretching your budget. Here’s where to look for help.

Financial Assistance

For starters, find out whether your family qualifies for your state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which may include cash assistance, food benefits, utility bill assistance, and free or low-cost daycare. Or, if your household income is too high to qualify as a family, ask about the “child-only grant” for the grandchild support alone.

Also, check to see if you’re eligible for foster care payments as a relative caregiver, or if your state offers any additional programs like guardianship subsidies, non-parent grants, or kinship care. Adoption assistance payments are also available to adopted grandchildren with special needs.

To inquire about these programs, contact your state’s TANF program and/or state Department of Human Services. See ACF.hhs.gov/ofa/map/about/help-families for contact information.

You also need to see if your grandchildren are eligible for Social Security, including benefits for dependent children, survivor benefits, or SSI. Visit SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213. Find out if they’re eligible for free/low-cost health coverage or dental coverage through your state’s Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (InsureKidsNow.gov).

You can also use Benefits.gov, the official benefits website of the U.S. government. It has a screening tool to help you identify the programs for which you and your grandchildren may be eligible, and it will direct you to the appropriate agency to apply. 

Tax Benefits

In addition to the financial assistance programs, there are also a range of tax benefits for which you may qualify, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, which is available to those with moderate to low incomes, and the Child Tax Credit, which is worth $2,000 per dependent child under age 17.

If you’re working and are incurring child care expenses in order to work, there’s a Child and Dependent Care Credit that can help. If you’ve legally adopted your grandchildren, there’s an Adoption Tax Credit that provides a federal tax credit of up to $16,810 in 2024.

You can also deduct medical and dental expenses if you and your dependent grandchildren’s health care costs exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year. There are even education-related tax credits that can help your grandchildren go to college. These include the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.

In addition to the tax credits and deductions, if you’re unmarried you may qualify for “head of household” status when you file your tax return. This designation has a higher standard deduction and a lower tax rate than you would have if you filed as a single.

Legal Help

If you haven’t already done so, you should also talk to an attorney to discuss the pros and cons of obtaining legal guardianship, custody, or adoption. Without some sort of legal custody, you may not be eligible for many of the previously listed financial assistance programs, and there can be problems with basic things like enrolling your grandchildren in school or giving a doctor permission to treat them.

For help locating affordable or free legal assistance, visit FindLegalHelp.org, or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for referrals. Also see GrandFamilies.org, a clearinghouse resource that offers information on financial assistance, adoption, foster care and more.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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