House passes bill that provides financial aid to grandparents

A bill to provide financial aid to grandparents raising grandchildren passed the state House Monday and is headed to the Senate.

The help can't come soon enough for Kingman-area seniors struggling to raise kids a second time around, said Gloria Richhart, coordinator of the Kingman Grandparents Raising Grandkids support group.

While the bill (HB2424) caps aid at $2 million – an effective drop in the bucket of need – any assistance and recognition of the grandparents' toils is welcome, Richhart said.

Grandchildren come to live with their grandparents for many different reasons.

Chief among them is parents using drugs, abusing and neglecting their children.

The tales told at a recent Grandparents meeting at the Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center are hair-raising.

After seeing abuse and neglect, grandparents ultimately feel compelled to step in and take over the care of their grandchildren.

"These children have been to war…they just feel unwanted and unloved," Richhart said.

Richhart estimates there are 3,000 Kingman area children being raised by grandparents.

Nationally, AARP reports six million grandchildren living with grandparents.

The grandparents either provide daycare for the grandchildren, have the grandchildren live with them without legal custody or have legal custody of the grandchildren.

Only those with legal custody are generally eligible for financial aid but often grandparents are wary of court battles for custody fearing they will lose what little oversight they have and destroy family relationships, Richhart said.

However, HB2424 will extend benefits (up to $250 a month) to grandparents based on the child's eligibility for TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) funds.

Richhart provides daycare for four grandchildren in addition to caring for her elderly mother.

This is not the way she pictured her retirement years.

"What happened to my golden years?" she said.

"They're gone.

Your retirement money goes down the tube; you have no social life, no professional life; you feel so left out."

Still, she said, her relationship with her grandchildren is worth the high price she pays.

Eleanor Fanire, a volunteer program coordinator for the Western Area Council of Governments who helps raise her granddaughter and attends Grandparents meetings, said she cherishes her time with her granddaughter.

"There's lots of rewards," she said.

But both women agree that grandparents need more legal rights in order to adequately protect their grandchildren.

"The system fails these children," Fanire said.

"It's a mess.

The kids are pawns and shuffled around."

When grandparents try to assert their rights, even just to claim the children on taxes, parents often threaten to take the child away.

"The laws need to change," Richhart said.

"The legislature says they don't want to be involved in family issues so these children are chattel.

The parents own them and no one else has rights."

The Grandparents group offers its members moral support as well as practical guidance.

The group works with a child advocate paralegal in Phoenix and has a former Superior Court clerk in Kingman who provides them with discounted paperwork.

The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month at the adult center.