Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2014

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Lawmakers asked to care for Kinship Care

Jane Horner says she does not know what more state lawmakers need to convince them that the Kinship Care program they created 2 1/2 years ago needs to be properly funded.

"I'd like to know why we have to keep proving ourselves," said Horner, a Boulder City grandmother who was the driving force in pushing the Kinship Care bill through the 2001 Legislature.

"Why make us jump through hoops when they (legislators) know what we need?"

Still, Horner, founder of Grandparents As Parents of Southern Nevada, will join other people who raise grandchildren at a 2:30 p.m. Legislative Kinship Care subcommittee hearing Saturday at the Sawyer State Office Building.

It is one of two subcommittee meetings scheduled for Saturday. The other is the adoption subcommittee hearing at 9 a.m. also at the Sawyer building.

At that hearing, the groups Nevada Open and Coalition Partners will seek support to change laws so that adults who were adopted in Nevada can gain access to sealed court documents and vital historical records of their own adoptions.

Both subcommittees are part of the Legislative Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

The Kinship Care legislation developed out of a need to provide money to senior citizens who, for various reasons, found themselves raising their grandchildren, which proponents say saved the state money by keeping kids out of the foster care program and provided the youths some family stability.

The 2000 Census shows that, in 6.2 percent of U.S. families, grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

The Kinship Care bill went into effect Oct. 1, 2001, and was funded by $800,000 in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Family grant money. Today it is $2 million a year from that same funding source.

However, in the wake of skyrocketing demand for federal funds from many social service quarters following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, funding for Kinship Care was restructured in 2002, resulting in some grandparents losing hundreds of dollars from their monthly benefit checks.

The new structure included an income limit of 275 percent of the poverty level. That meant a family of four had to make less than $4,216 a month to qualify for Kinship Care. When the program was created there was no income limit.

Also, the Kinship Care funding formula changed from 90 percent of what foster care families receive for each child to 90 percent for the first child and $100 a month for each additional child in Kinship Care.

Facing the probability of losing $491 per month raising her two grandchildren, Horner took a pass on the program she helped create and opted instead to go through more stringent qualifications to become a foster grandparent because foster care funds were not cut. Still, she champions Kinship Care.

"Most of the grandparents are on a fixed income. Some sold their condos and bought bigger houses to raise their grandchildren, expecting to use some of the Kinship Care money to help pay the mortgage. Now without that money some have depleted their savings and others told me they have filed for bankruptcy."

Still others have told Horner they are considering turning their grandkids over to the state, where the better-funded foster care program will meet their needs -- at taxpayers' expense.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the Kinship Care subcommittee, is sympathetic to the grandparents' cause. It was her bill that created Kinship Care.

"It (Kinship Care) is better for the child and it fills a void by providing some funding to help people who were helping the state save money," Giunchigliani said.

"What we would like to explore is the possibility of going into the general fund (state money) to provide funding for the program and lowering the minimum age to qualify for Kinship Care, which now is 62."

Giunchigliani said she has no regrets about how the program was established, noting that had she gone for use of state money in 2001 and had no minimum age requirement "the bill would not have passed."

She said she believes a majority of legislators now will support use of state dollars if the program has improved stability for the children.

Susan Klein-Rothschild, director of Clark County Family Services, said her agency also is poised to pitch in to improve the Kinship Care program.

She says she will testify Saturday that her agency has secured federal money -- $500,000 a year for five years -- to provide respite services that include taking the grandchildren to doctor appointments.

"This is not a solution -- just part of a solution to the situation," Klein-Rothschild said.

Nancy Ford, administrator for the Nevada Welfare Division, said she will present statistics to the committee that the Kinship Care program has come in under budget and that more can be done with its annual federal grant.

Still, she warns something will have to give. For example, lowering the minimum age will deplete available funds. And, she said, reinstating the reduced benefits to multi-child families will make it difficult to meet the demand if the minimum age also is lowered.

Ford said 159 Nevada families and 263 children are in the Kinship Care program.

As for the adoptions issue, Nevada Open says on its website it will continue its campaign "for the repeal of Nevada statutes that deny access by adopted citizens to state-held historical documents recording their own births and adoptions."

Bills to change those laws went before the Nevada Legislature in 1997, 2001 and 2003.

It did not receive so much as a hearing until last year.

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