D.C.'s Grandparent Caregiver Program At-Risk

James Wright | 2/17/2011, 8:59 a.m.
D.C. Child and Family Services provides financial assistance to grandparents who are raising their children's offspring. City officials project that the program could be cut by as much as 33 percent in the fiscal year 2012 budget. / Courtesy Photo  

A District program that helps grandparents support their grandchildren is endanger of being cut so severely that it will impact the number of recipients it helps.

The D.C. Grandparent Caregiver Program, which is administered by D.C. Child and Family Services, provides financial assistance to grandparents who are raising their children's offspring. City officials project that the program could be cut by as much as 33 percent in the fiscal year 2012 budget, which will be presented to the D.C. Council on April 1.

"The D.C. Grandparent Caregiver Program helps keep children in their families and out of foster care," said Judith Sandalow, the executive director of the Children's Law Center in Northwest.

"It is cost effective for the District to keep it going."

D.C. government statistics report that 16,723 children live in a grandparent-headed household, which is 14.5 percent of all children in the city. There are 5,374 children living in households headed by other relatives, which is 4.7 percent of all children in Washington.

Ninety one percent of all children living with their grandparents in the city are Black, with five percent Latino and one percent White. Thirty seven percent of these grandparents live in households without the children's parents present.

Fifty-nine percent of the grandparents raising their grandchildren are under the age of 60 and 23 percent of them live in poverty.

Residents who qualify for the grandparent caregiver program must be the primary head of household, the primary caregiver for the children without the parent, live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, must have applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for the child and agree to submit each adult person in the household to a background check.

The program got its start as a pilot established by the Grandparent Caregivers Pilot Program Establishment Act of 2005. The pilot was a tremendous success and in 2009, the D.C. Council created the grandparent caregiver program as a permanent item in the D.C. budget.

The program survived the budget axe in FY 2010 and 2011 because of the concerned efforts of organizations such as the District of Columbia's chapter of AARP. However, because the District is looking at a possible $600 million budget gap, the 33 percent cut is a strong possibility.

"I think it is a very important program," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said.

"However, we are down to the bone as far as the budget is concerned. As a matter of fact, we are at the bone marrow and we will have to make undesirable choices because we have far fewer resources."
Gray, 68, who is a grandparent, said that there are some programs that are popular that will be reduced or eliminated.

James McSpadden, the associate state director-advocacy for AARP DC, testified before a D.C. Council Committee on Human Services Roundtable meeting on Thu., Feb. 3 regarding the financial value of the grandparent caregiver program.

"The financial impact of the caregivers program can be seen in several ways," McSpadden said.

"For the District government, the impact is a cost savings. It is significantly less expensive to provide a subsidy to a grandparent than to place a child in the child welfare system."

McSpadden said that the annual subsidy is about $9,000, while it costs the city $46,000 to keep a child in foster care.

McSpadden said that many residents who are taking care of their grandchildren will have to "take on additional work or increase their indebtedness to creditors" if the program is cut by a third.

"The reduction may also have an impact on a grandchild's ability to learn, develop socially and develop psychologically," he said.

Adaline Davis, a resident of Northwest, has raised three of her grandchildren and is in the process of rearing four more. Davis, 68, said that being the primary caregiver for her grandchildren is hard work.

"Their mother was unable to take care of them," she said. "I took care of them. I took them in."
Davis's oldest grandson is Vernon Davis, the star tight end for the San Francisco 49ers. Vernon, a 2010 Pro Bowl selection, recently signed a contract extension for five years and $37 million, with $23 million guaranteed.

Her second oldest grandson is Vontae Davis, who is a starting cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and is enriched by a five-year, $10.25 million contract inked in 2009. Her oldest granddaughter, Veronica
Davis, is an honors student at Hood College in Frederick, Md.

Davis's youngest grandson is enrolled in a private school in Baltimore. Her teenaged granddaughters are enrolled in D.C. public and charter schools.

Davis said that she was not aware of the subsidy, but sure could have used it.

"Kids are expensive," she said. "Children today have a lot of problems. Some are born addicted to crack cocaine and you have some kids shooting each other."

Davis said that the grandparents themselves have problems such as battling diabetes and high blood pressure. She said that any assistance that the District government can provide will be helpful.

"These grandparents today should be getting paid," Davis said.

D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large) is a strong supporter of the grandparent caregiver program, and will work to see that it will get every dollar that it can during budget deliberations later this year.

"Blood should not handicap assistance," said Brown, who was elected in 2008.

"I understand that grandparents will raise their grandkids anyway but they should be supported.

Besides, it is miniscule compared to what it costs a child to be in foster care."

Brown, 45, said that he will be a "proud protector" of the program during budget hearings.

Sandalow said that the grandparent caregiver program represents the best in D.C. citizens.

"This program is an example of what I think is this city's greatest strength, its extended family network," she said. "This program strengthens the family and lets children stay with their families."