Democrats introduce legislative platform to support grandparents raising grandchildren

HARRISBURG, Sept. 26 – Pennsylvania House Aging and Older Adults Committee Majority Chair Patty Kim was joined by fellow Democratic state representatives and grandparents’ rights advocates in the Capitol on Tuesday to introduce a legislative platform to support grandparents and kin caregivers raising young relatives in Pennsylvania.

“In Pennsylvania today, grandparents or other relatives are the primary caregivers for an estimated 202,000 children whose parents are absent for a number of reasons,” said Kim, D-Dauphin, Cumberland. “These grandparents and relatives are doing truly heroic work taking care of these vulnerable children, but they need critical financial, educational, and health care supports from the state to help them raise their grandkids. Our legislative package will go far in ensuring that caregivers have short term emergency help and that children remain with their grandparent and kin caregivers.”

The legislative program includes:

Kim’s H.B. 1688, which would establish a grant program to allow Area Agencies on Aging to assist in specific instances where grandparents need short-term emergency help to address the personal care needs of the grandchild who is living with them. Many grandparents supporting grandchildren are low-income households depending upon social security, Medicare and Medicaid. They aren't always equipped to address emergency personal needs of the child or children for whom they are caring. This legislation would help in those situations.

“Most grandparents do not plan becoming primary caregivers,” Kim said. “Living on fixed incomes, with a sudden need to pay for anything from diapers to clothes to food, grandparents can find themselves in dire financial straits. My legislation would provide short-term emergency help so these grandparents can provide their grandchildren with basic necessities.”

State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski’s, D-Luzerne, H.B. 931 would create The Kinship Care Legal Assistance Grant Program, which would award funds to eligible non-profit organizations providing civil legal services to help kinship families obtain custody or adoption, power of attorney for the child's medical and educational care or establish legal standing with the child to make daily caregiving decisions. This will allow at-risk children to stay in stable family environments, relieving pressure on the foster care system.

“While we’ve made progress, we continue to hear from grandparents and kinship caregivers struggling to access the resources they need and deserve as they take care of their family member’s children,” Pashinski said. “These stories are supported by the Joint State Government Commission’s recommendations and advocates who have all identified providing legal and other financial assistance for kin caregivers as an important next step for Pennsylvania policymakers – which is what our grant program would do.”

State Rep. Rick Krajewski’s, D-Philadelphia, H.B. 1058 would help children live with relatives by requiring the courts to seek and consider the opinions of those who engaged with the family before and during the child custody proceedings. Currently, these informed observers have no right to share their opinion on what is best for the child. Having such valuable input will help courts make child custody decisions with the best information and in the best interest of the child.

“This commonsense legislative reform, making child custody proceedings more inclusive of potential kinship care providers, could have a major impact on vulnerable youth,” Krajewski said. “It's a simple change that can help a child resume attending school, reconnect with community and avoid being at-risk for violence by preventing community displacement and trauma.”

State Rep. Jessica Benham’s, D-Allegheny, H.B. 668 would make kinship caregivers eligible for the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program which is currently only for children in the foster care system. This would provide these children who still struggle financially a better chance at getting an education they deserve.

“Kids in kinship care often fall through the cracks,” Benham said. “In many cases, they don’t meet the requirements ‘on paper’ to qualify for resources available to foster kids, despite facing similar financial and emotional struggles. These bills would make real, material differences for kids living in kinship care across Pennsylvania.”

Joining the representatives were prominent advocates for grandparents, including:

  • Karen Barnes, president and founder of Grands Stepping Up. 
  • Dolorez Cobb-Jones, constituent advocate.
  • Sara McDonald, director, Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging.
  • Alex Maasdam of Kin Connector.

The Capitol news conference and rally aimed to raise awareness of the need for state funding and the support of state and local government agencies to assist grandparents/kinship guardians who are raising their grandchildren. The lawmakers said this is because the children’s parents are unable to care for their children due to issues such as opiate addiction, incarceration, mental health issues, death or illness.   

Inquiries about the legislative package can be directed to Kim’s office at (717) 303-3715.