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Lyda Gunter loves being a grandmother, but she never imagined that she would be raising one of her grandchildren and cashing in her retirement account money early to help pay for all of the expenses.
She and her 18-year-old grandson, Bryant, live in a small, but nice two-bedroom home near Glouster and Bishopville in Morgan County.
“I feel very fortunate that Bryant and I have each other,” Lyda said. She is just one of thousands of grandparents in Ohio who are raising their grandchildren. It can be hard financially, physically and emotionally to raise a grandchild, and things are about to get even tougher for Lyda as she will soon have five people living in her home.
Bryant has a rare neuromuscular disease (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) and also has a learning disability. Among its other symptoms, the disease makes his arms and legs weak, affects his balance, makes it difficult to go up stairs or walk very far, and makes it so that he has a hard time feeling hot or cold. The learning disability, meanwhile, makes school challenging for him, even though he tries hard and does well in some subjects.
He has also had to deal with numerous family issues.
“He’s never lived with his mother and he never met his father,” Gunter said. Bryant’s father died three years ago, and that pushed Bryant into a period of depression and a drug overdose.
Lyda spends her time taking care of Bryant, and also caring for her mother, who is suffering from dementia and may need to move in with her soon. Lyda does not receive any government assistance, and lives off the $906 she receives every month from her IRA.
“It was a fund that I’d hoped not to tap into until my retirement years,” said Lyda, who will turn 60 later this year. With all of her family responsibilities, she is not able to work a steady job and had to borrow against her home recently in order to pay some family expenses.
Lyda’ daughter and granddaughter are each working in the community, but they will both be moving in with her in the spring.
“The economy is such that they can no longer live on their own,” Lyda said. She does not know how everyone will fit into the two-bedroom house, plus another grandchild may also be staying at the home at times.
Currently, Lyda is able to pay her bills, but there is no extra money for Bryant to go to movies, pay for prom or pay for other normal teenage expenses. Bryant is only able to go to school for 4 ½ hours each day before he gets too tired, so he does not ride the bus. It’s a 55-mile trip to school and back along a hilly, winding state highway, and it’s expensive to keep the car filled with gas. He does receive a Social Security check each month for about $200, and that money helps to pay for his gas and a few other expenses.
Lyda talks often with other grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and she said that many people are much worse off than she is.
“I know grandparents who go through the last part of winter without heat,” Gunter said. By the end of the winter, their HEAP payments have run out and there is no money left to pay the utility bills.
Many grandparents also have a difficult time providing enough food for their grandchildren, even if they receive funding from the food assistance program.
“There’s no way you can feed growing children with the amount of food stamps you get, even if you feed them just cereal and milk,” Lyda said.
For the grandparents who receive OWF funding, that funding is simply not enough at $259 per month for one child and then $355 for two, increasing with each additional child. Grandparents don’t have enough money to pay for school fees, clothes and extra expenses that the children have, Lyda said.
“Every cent that we have goes toward caring for these children,” she added. “Some of them, if they get to take their grandkids to McDonald’s just once a month, it’s time for celebration.”
Because of her IRA payments, Gunter does not qualify for any assistance. She is in a bad financial situation, though, and hopes that the government at some point will provide help to people like her.
“I don’t foresee any way of ever getting out of debt, not in this lifetime,” Lyda said, adding that she is now trying to sell her house in order to pay off some debt. Her IRA payments will run out at some point, and then she will be left with Social Security payments that are lower than her IRA amount.
If grandparents could receive assistance with health care, car repairs or other expenses it would help a great deal, she said. Lyda is thankful that Ohio does provide some funding for grandparents through kinship care, but it is only a small amount and can only be received for up to three years. The amount and the time period for the funding need to be increased.
Currently in Ohio, 88,000 grandparents are serving as the primary caregivers to their grandchildren, according to a 2005 U.S. Census Bureau report. Half of these grandparents provide care for more than one grandchild, and more than half of the children being cared for by grandparents are six years old or younger.
Many of these grandparents are just like Lyda, doing everything they can for their grandchildren but struggling every day to get by,
They need our help.
Click here to watch a video of Lyda's story