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A “GrandRally” for the Silent Safety Net

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September 15, 2011

NEW YORK - A rally today in the nation's capital will highlight the 2.5 million Americans who some call the nation's "silent safety net": grandparents who are raising their children's kids.

The number of families in that situation jumped by more than 5 percent in the first year of the Great Recession, says Jerry Wallace, executive director of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights and the New York State Kinship Navigator Program. As of 2010, nearly 8 million children nationwide are living with relatives other than parents, including 200,000 in New York. For one in three of them, Wallace says, a grandparent is their primary caregiver.

"Our families cannot wait. We have a whole segment of the population - unrecognized, underserved - that is doing the job that we would all do in their position. They need to get the help that they deserve."

Wallace, who will be among those addressing today's rally, thinks programs such as Social Security should be strengthened and benefits extended to reach more children in the care of "grand-families."

Roughly 10 times as many children are in kinship care situations as in foster care, says Wallace. He believes the system shortchanges some of these grand-families, in terms of benefits such as food stamps and school lunch programs.

"And now, you add a child to that family and you only get, really, a fractional stipend to pay for their nutrition. You're at a disadvantage. The system doesn't recognize the burden of bringing children into homes that have not anticipated that they'd become caregivers."

New York pours nearly $3 billion a year into foster care for 22,000 children, Wallace says, but spends less than $1 million a year to support roughly 200,000 youngsters statewide - including 15,000 on Long Island alone - who are in the care of grandparents.

"You have to remember they're disproportionally poor, about 22 percent at the poverty level; and they're disproportionally old - 24 percent above the age of 60, and an average age of 56. So, every cent counts."

Information on the rally is online at grandrally.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY