HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - In the United States, 7.6 million grandchildren live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Nearly 260,000 of those children live in Pennsylvania. 

Today, lawmakers highlighted legislation to assist the 84,000 Pennsylvania grandparents and kinship caregivers who are responsible for meeting the basic needs of their grandchildren.  

A major issue for many grandparents is the sudden, and often unexpected, responsibility of becoming a child’s caretaker. Lawmakers and advocates say raising a child is not cheap, especially when it’s unplanned. State Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin/Cumberland) is looking to help grandparents by creating the Kinship Care Assistance Program with House Bill 1688. 

“This just came from conversations from grandparents. The challenges of fixed income, and then now I have to all of a sudden take care of a child. We want to have a grant system for county programs to get them out to grandparents as they see fit,” said Kim.  

Kim says local Area Agencies on Aging would disburse the grants at their discretion if the bill is signed into law. She believes the agencies have the ability to talk with local grandparents to address their short-term emergency needs. 

Grandparents are often forced to care for a grandchild after a tragedy or unfortunate circumstance involving the child’s parent. Kim says her bill, and others, would alleviate some of the challenges during a difficult time. 

“The grandparents who are taking care of the grandchildren are kind of like the silent heroes. Something tragic happened to their families and they just stepped in and they're enduring so many sacrifices. And so I thought it was really important to come out today to share the trend and to give them some support,” said Kim. 

Advocates also highlighted House Bill 668. The bill would expand the eligibility requirements for the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program to include children who go into kinship care but would have otherwise been in the foster care system if their family did not step in.  

Other bills aim to create a kinship care legal assistance grant program and expand the voices of providers in child custody proceedings. 

“We hear you. We see you. And here are some bills that we think will help you alleviate some of the burdens that they're experiencing,” said Kim. 

PA KinConnector provides guidance, advice, and support for grandparents raising grandchildren and other relative and non-relative Kinship Caregivers. KinConnector also runs a helpline that can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111). The helpline is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

The Caregiver Support Program also offers assistance for individuals who assume the primary responsibility for a dependent child under 18.