By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any financial assistance programs that can help grandparents who are raising their grandkids? I’m raising two grandchildren and could use some help.
Money is often an issue for the millions of U.S. grandparents who are raising their grandchildren today. To help with the day-to-day expenses, there are a variety of government programs and tax benefits that can make a big difference in stretching your budget.
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 stamps 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 just the grandchild’s support alone. Also, find out if your state offers any additional programs like guardianship subsidies, non-parent grants or kinship care.
Contact your state TANF program (see ACF.HHS.gov/ofa for contact information), or call your county social services office (Pierce County Human Services at 253-798-4500) for more information on these programs.
You also need to find out if your grandkids are eligible for Social Security, including benefits for children, survivor benefits or SSI. You can find this out at your local Social Security office, or call 800-772-1213 or visit SSA.gov.
And finally, use BenefitsCheckUp.org, a comprehensive website that lets you search for additional financial assistance programs that you may be eligible for, such as lower energy bills, discounts on prescription medications and more.
In addition to the financial assistance programs, there are also a number of tax benefits that may help you, too, like the Dependency Exemption, which allows you to deduct $4,050 in 2107 on each qualifying grandchild.
There’s also the Earned Income Tax Credit (or EITC) which is available to those with moderate to low incomes, or the Child Tax Credit if you make too much money to qualify for the EITC.
If you’re working and are incurring childcare expenses in order to work, there’s a Child and Dependent Care Credit that can help. And, if you choose to legally adopt your grandkids, there’s an Adoption Credit that provides a federal tax credit of up to $13,570.
There are even education-related tax credits that can help your grandkids go to college, like the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.
To learn more about these tax benefits, call the IRS at 800-829-1040, or visit IRS.gov. You can also call the IRS publication line at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you the publications that further explain the aforementioned benefits. Ask for publications 501, 503, 596, 970, 972.
Health insurance and legal aid
If your grandkids need health insurance, depending on your income level, you may be able to get free or low-cost health insurance through your state’s Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. See InsureKidsNow.gov or call 877-543-7669 for more information.
You also need to talk to a family law 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 grandkids in school, or giving a doctor permission to treat them. For help locating affordable or free legal assistance, visit www.FindLegalHelp.org, or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for referrals.
For more information and resources, see the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center at GrandFamilies.org.
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.