Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren Face Difficult Financial Burdens
June 21, 2013

California Study Investigates Financial Burden Of Child-Rearing Grandparents

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Raising a child can place quite a strain on any family’s finances, but a new study demonstrates that the burden is especially cumbersome for the increasing number of older men and women raising their grandchildren.

The Elder Index, which was compiled by experts at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, reports that over 300,000 grandparents in the state of California alone are primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of their grandsons and granddaughters.

Of those individuals, nearly 65,000 are over the age of 65, and more than 20,000 take care of their grandchildren without extended assistance from their families. Those older men and women, the authors said, are among California’s most vulnerable residents because of the state’s high cost of living and low levels of public assistance.

“California's high cost of living turns the loving act of caring for a grandchild into a desperate financial risk,” said lead author D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, a graduate student researcher at the UCLA center. “And older grandparents, many on fixed incomes and with limited mobility, are often the least able to advocate for, and access, public assistance.”

According to the latest Elder Index calculations, which are based on the real cost of living in each California county, nearly half of all custodial grandparents at least 65 years of age lack sufficient income to meet the basic needs of the grandchildren they are caring for. However, public assistance programs which could help them cover those costs are often difficult or completely off-limits for family caregivers, the authors said.

“There is a hypocrisy built into how assistance is allocated to children and their caregivers in California,” said Susan E. Smith, director of the California Elder Economic Security Initiative at the Insight Center. “We preach the importance of keeping families together yet deny grandparents essential assistance because they are ‘family.’ This is an injustice that policymakers could easily address by making more benefits available, and accessible, to grandparents.”

Most older California residents are not eligible for state medical assistance, housing subsidies or food-related benefits because their income levels are often slightly more than the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three and $14,710 for a family of two in 2011), the authors said. They claim that many experts view that income standard as inadequate because it does not account for income variations in different states and different counties.

For example, grandparents who live in more costly areas such as Los Angeles or San Francisco could earn more than the federal poverty level allows for governmental assistances, but less than required to cover essential needs in their city of residence. In fact, the researchers report that the cost involved in caring for at least one grandchild “far exceeds” the federal poverty level in every single county in the state of California.

“In 2011, an older couple with one grandchild who lived in a two-bedroom rental needed an income as high as $49,942 if they lived in Santa Cruz County and as low as $32,965 if they lived in Kern, the ‘lowest-cost’ county,” the university said in information released as part of the Elder Index’s regularly-scheduled biennial update.

To rectify this situation, the authors suggested raising eligibility criteria for some public programs to 200 percent of the poverty level and extending state foster-care benefits to kinship caregivers. They also suggest limiting the frequency of “cumbersome and bureaucratic” benefit renewals, as the majority of seniors live on fixed incomes and thus do not experience the income fluctuations that typically require regular documenting.