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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enabling Grandparents: Case In Point

Jane recently raised the topic of enabling grandparents, who allow the adult children to behave in their irresponsible fashions, who are allowed to treat their parents much in the same way they would treat a combo ATM/ slave, who either abuse or ignore their children to the point where the grandparents are raising them, but Mama or Daddy call the tune.

I think one of the biggest cases of enabling an adult child has been the case of the octuplets born in the LA area to a single woman, never married, who already has six children:


To quote the AP writer, Raquel Maria Dillon,

"Nadya Suleman wanted to have children since she was a teenager, 'but luckily she couldn't,' her mother said.
"'Instead of becoming a kindergarten teacher or something, she started having them, but not the normal way,' her mother said.
"Her daughter's obsession with children caused Angela Suleman considerable stress, so she sought help from a psychologist, who told her to order her daughter out of the house.
"'Maybe she wouldn't have had so many kids then, but she is a grown woman,' Angela Suleman said. 'I feel responsible and I didn't want to throw her out.'"

I love babies, don't get me wrong. I do not think any of these children, however they were conceived, should have been aborted through selective reduction.

Miss Nadya is not married. She has a degree in child and adolescent development and was studying for a Master of Arts in counseling (as if that wouldn't scare you about going to a counselor). I don't know if this is very marketable. The father is a sperm donor, and whoever he is, he's allegedly the father of ALL fourteen.

But Mama was told to tell her to leave by an expert. Mama didn't have the heart. Mama felt responsible. So Miss Nadya, unmarried and a participant in the Kaiser Permanente health plan, now has 14 children. I would bet you dollars to donuts that Nadya is expecting Mama to help out with all 14.

Mama told Nadya that "I won't be there" when Nadya gets out of the hospital. So, Mama is moving out, but Nadya and the brood get to stay. Grandpa Suleman is going to Iraq to earn more money to support this bunch. Nobody expects this young woman to actually do what is necessary to raise her children.

If this young woman isn't the poster child for enabling adult progeny, I don't know who is. Let's see if we can analyze the situation and ourselves learn from it.

NEXT: Fear and Intimidation

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What in Great Harry Indeed!!!

This is one of those off-topic times.

I participated for four years on a set of message boards through an apostolate aimed at dispensing correct Catholic information. The apostolate has been in existence for about 11 years. It's all up-to-date info, supports the Magisterium, loyal to the Pope. However, their loyalty to their membership base leaves something to be desired:


I am a friend of KC's who knows she speaks the truth, first-hand. I've been at this particular site for four years, no problems, regular contributions when I could afford it. All of the sudden, BAM! People are being banned like flies. Other members can't tell that they are banned, because they are not labeling the bans as they used to do. The people who have been banned are simply unreachable, and from their end, these banned ones can't log on. People who ask questions about the bannings are told they shouldn't ask questions out in the open or else they are going to be banned. You'd think the Governor of Illinois was running the boards. ;-)

This apostolate also sends out constant solicitation letters, so they were really not too bright to tick off their members. I did notice their biannual appeal for funds to distribute Catholic literature at World Youth Day in Australia was no different than their appeal for WYD when it was held in Canada: The apostolate "suddenly" realized that Protestants and secular humanists would attend WYD and attack the Catholic faith of these young people, handing out tracts and the like to lead them astray. The apostolate needed "urgent" contributions to produce copies of their Catholic tracts, which would assist the youth in staying on the right course. Now, the next WYD is announced at the end of the last WYD. How could this apostolate not know there would be anti-Catholic influences there and plan accordingly?

But OK, aside from hokey advertising, the message boards do provide clear answers to a lot of life's questions from a Catholic perspective. Some of that comes from the apostolate's own apologists. But a lot of it comes from people out in the real world, including a deacon with a doctorate in canon law, a very well-versed director of religious education, and trained catechists.

People have come in and been brought back to the Church by being urged to go to confession. People have had their marriage situations corrected and convalidated to canon law. People have realized that they are indeed OK to receive the Eucharist, after being misinformed that they were somehow too sinful to do so. Need I even doubt that babies have been saved from abortion? Despite the good efforts of those apologists, it's the people who have been with the message boards since its inception, those members who have experience in these matters.

It's an apostolate, which means they can run things as they see fit. However:

1.) I am beginning to wonder if all they want is ca$h, contribution$.
2.) I wonder if they want a younger followership, and less of the "old coots" around to serve up their curmudgeonly wisdom.
3.) I wonder why these moderators favor the anal ramblings of 16 year olds, who should really be in another section of the boards, over people who have either life experience or the actual credentials to say otherwise.
4.) And I never got the guys under 40 who are out to staple a piece of lace on their wives' heads, call it "obedience" and claim this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote that women should have their heads covered in church (small c).

I am going through the effort to resign from this particular site. I've cleaned out my mailbox and given folks my personal email address, as well as the other Catholic site to which I will move my contact and participation. I've been told three different ways to resign, and have done them all.

I've opened a "Once Upon A Catholic Site" Yahoo group, and am debating a Facebook or Twitter group. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More About Me

I get more email than comments, which is fine by me. But the questions make me think I'm not communicating in the best way about myself and my family. So, here goes:

  • No, we are not broke. Thank you for asking me, and thank you for offering money. We don't need it, but it's very sweet of you to offer. I have been broke. I have lived in what amounted to Section 8 housing for about 6 months with the people who are now my adult children, when they were under aged children. I have had food stamps and used a food pantry prior to my grandchildren moving in with us, a long time ago, back in the late 1980s. I used the human resources system when my grandchildren came to live with us FOR THEM because I did not want to be broke. Their parents were not paying child support, and the children qualified for what they received. As I've told people earlier, legally grandparents are not obligated to pay the expenses of their grandchildren unless they adopt the grandchildren, and well then the grandkids are the kids. But no, presently, my family is not broke.
  • So yes, to those two people who felt the need to ask, I do have time to sit on my rear end and write in my blog, as if that is anybody's business. I don't watch a great deal of TV, which frees me up to do lots of things.
  • I know how to do research. That's where I find a lot of my information. I research on the Internet. Yes, I also know how to research in books, film and other media in a library setting. The Internet and the very large local library do not have the same information. I have even performed research professionally, in such places as no less than the National Archives.
  • I don't like to divulge a lot of information about my kids, even the adult one who caused so much trouble. I only released the photos of her bathroom to show her that I mean business. It seems she now regrets her decision to terminate her parental rights, after four years. She has to know that I will still do whatever it takes for the grandchildren. She is a legal adult and allegedly able to take care of herself.
  • I can't give specific information for every circumstance and every state. The closest I came was the food stamps entry. I will do an entry on school lunches in a few days.. That will be pretty universal. But specifics by states- no can do. You need to learn to do your own research. Mine is just a starting point.
  • I don't think there's anything wrong in the instance of people who owe others money and attempt to take advantage of others, with mailing these people their things and being generous with the rocks in the yard, and the cologne accidentally spilling on the contents of the package, or cat feces accidentally ending up in the box. Perhaps it is not Christian, perhaps it is. It is a definite instruction to the ignorant, one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If it does not bear wrongs patiently, perhaps living in a finite world, patience has an end limit.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tax Returns, Grandparents & Yes, Now I Am An Expert

I have a different disclaimer for this entry. Instead of my usual spiel about not being a lawyer or a social worker, just a grandparent raising grandchildren, I instead will say: While I am a trained tax preparer, please realize that any advice offered in this entry is not tailored to your individual circumstances. For more information, consult the IRS or a local individual trained in tax preparation, or your tax software.

Awhile back, my dearly departed aunt (DDA) and I decided to take tax preparation classes at a chain tax preparation company. My DDA worked many years at the IRS, and was interested to see what it was like on the other side. I was sick of being confused by Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax, known as the Bible of the Tax Code. For a ridiculous entry fee, we had seasoned tax preparation specialists teach us just how the returns worked, what was legal to ask, what was not unless volunteered, and so much more.

So, this is not just information I've researched. This is stuff I know! Tax prep is a nerdish hobby I will admit. Yes, I am the first on the block to support the flat tax as well as the fair tax when either comes up. I still love preparing income tax returns, on my own, for selected clients or as a volunteer.

Here are my tips for grandparents raising grandchildren and other relatives who might have a spare set of related kids in the house:

1.) Get the kids' social security numbers. You will need them in order to claim the kids on your 1040 or 1040A. Look on old paperwork left behind. Go to the social security office. Check out department of human services paperwork. Ask the school. Give the IRS no cause to reject your return.

2.) File as soon as possible. Don't wait, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that often, but not always, if your adult child beats you to claiming the kids, the IRS is going to want to know why you are claiming them as well. At best, this will hold up your return; at worst, the IRS will not give you the return amount you filed, and ask a lot of questions. Save yourself the aggravation. If you are waiting on a W-2, simply go look at your last paycheck statement or stub. All your information is there. If you're using tax software and filing electronically, the IRS doesn't want to see your W-2. In any event, the IRS receives a copy of your W-2 from your employer along with all the copies you send them. Besides, the sooner you file, the sooner you get your cash.

3.) If the kids lived with you more than either of their parents in 2008, claim them as dependents, but file as quickly as possible. The IRS might be an agency of the United States government, but the IRS operates under very different rules and regs. Single tax payers are only allowed to claim $8,950 in standard deduction if under 65 this year, and $10,300 if over 65. A person with kids to raise is known as a Head of Household, and claims $11,500 if under 65, and $12,850 if over 65. If you aren't married, it makes sense to be one of those heads of households.
How? If the child or children lived with you more than one-half of the year, meaning 6 months and one day; and you provided more than half of the child or children's support (not including assistance from the department of human services, food stamps, TANF and the like); then you are allowed to take the child or children as your dependents. You're the one raising these kids. Even if you are married, claim the children as dependents and claim them early. Let your adult child go through the nonsense of explaining to the IRS why you are claiming them.
Some preparers will disagree with me. Let them write their own blog.

4.) Don't forget the EIC credit, child care expense credit, and the child tax credit. IF you earned money this year through work (earned income); and IF have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $33, 995 if single (head of household, qualified widow or widower) with 1 qualifying child, or $36,995 if you are married with 1 qualifying child; and IF the qualifying child is your child, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, or a descendant of any of them such as a grandchild or niece; and IF the child is under 19, a full time student under 24, or disabled as of 2008; THEN you may claim an Earned Income Credit, or EIC. If you have a second qualifying child, the AGI amount increases to $38,646 and $41,646 if married filing jointly. The government really, really wants you to claim an EIC if you qualify. They spend millions of dollars advertising that the EIC exists. An EIC credit can be quite substantial, thousands of dollars you will receive even if you didn't pay that much in federal withholding from your paychecks.
Working and paying for day care or after school care? Look into the child care expense credit? Make under $75,000 if in single mode, or $110,000 if married filing jointly? Is the child in your care under 17 and in the US legally? See if you qualify for the child tax credit. More than 3 children in your care? Try the additional child tax credit. If you don't qualify even after you completed the forms, at least you tried.

5.) If you are smart enough to have an email account and surf the Internet, and you don't believe the Nigerian government has exiled an official who wants to share his wealth with you, get tax software. File electronically if you are not barred from doing so. I'll let you in on a secret. The tax preparation chains work on commission. For every piece of paper the preparer generates, real paper or digital paper, you pay a fee. It doesn't matter if the the piece of paper is included in the return transmitted or mailed to the IRS or not. Worksheet generated? You pay for it. Form generated? You pay for it. And the preparer gets a percentage of your total tax prep bill.
If you have no trouble putting mouse to icon, and have a steady stream of email daily, you should have no trouble completing a relatively uncomplicated return, whether with purchased software or on the web through a site. It really doesn't matter which company or software or site.
A very few people cannot file electronically. If you are one of these people, make sure you print your entire return. Make yourself a copy. Separate your W-2s down the perforated lines, so you have a copy. If you have any documents that need to be included with the 1040 or 1040A, be sure to make copies for yourself. Mail the completed 1040 with its attending documentation via return receipt requested mail (the green post card that comes back when the IRS has received your packed envelope).

6.) If you don't feel confident with the computer and you don't have a complicated return, then try preparing your own or having somebody in the house who can read at the sixth grade level complete it for you. Teens can be really helpful when it comes to computers. It would be excellent practice for them to learn to complete a tax return online. The two of you could even sit down with a pencil, a handheld calculator, and fill out the return by hand.

7.) If you are bad with computers, and are mathematically challenged, or have a complicated return, either go to a paid tax preparer or one of free tax preparation centers offered by the IRS, churches, and civic groups. Usually, a complicated return means you generate money during the year, either by work or investments (congratulations by the way). It could mean you had a bad accident, or have gone through the mill in so many ways. In any event, if this is you, go ahead and use a good tax preparer, or even an accountant or tax attorney.
Not so wealthy but in a complicated situation? Find a tax clinic, tax payer assistance program, or preparer volunteers. Start at no less than the IRS itself. If you are a member of a church, check there (even if you aren't a member, most churches who have the program open their doors to anybody who qualifies). Check out AARP.Almost every civic group and a few private concerns have volunteers who would like nothing better than to assist you in filing your return.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food Stamps (EBT CARD)- If You Got Em, Use Em

I am for smaller government and more self-determination, but as a once divorced mother, I have a soft spot in my heart and head for anything that feeds people who are having a rough time feeding themselves, and more importantly, their children.

That is not to say I don't have criticism of the program.

Contrary to the image, food stamps are not made of food and they are not stamps. Food Stamps are rather a government allotment on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card similar to a credit or debit card, used solely to purchase food. Nothing else can be purchased with them, certainly not cigarettes and alcohol, also no soap, dish detergent, clothes detergent, cold remedies, pain relievers, or toilet paper. One can, if one is of the notion, purchase food plants or seeds and dirt to attempt to grow food. One may not purchase already made food such as that served in a restaurant, unless one is homeless, a senior or disabled. Only certain restaurants, soup kitchen and meal delivery programs are included. One can purchase deli meat and other delights from behind the deli counter which resides in most major grocery stores.

Food stamps did indeed used to be stamps. Started in 1939 , families "on relief" or public assistance could purchase food stamps. They came in colors, orange and blue. Orange stamps cost $1, and for every $1 spent on orange stamps, recipients were given 50 cents in blue stamps. Food stamps disappeared in 1943 for a commodity program, and were re-established in 1961. Stamps stopped being a purchase entitlement for low income families, and looked more like coupons, in 1977 . In 1997 , electronic transfer cards became mandatory for all states, to be implemented by 2002 (Such is government). Income limits to receive food stamps have changed over the years (In Illinois, the current limit for a family of four is $297 per month, with food stamps allotment of $220 per month the average). Current maximum benefit for a family of four is $490 a month (That's a lot of food). USDA is trying to call the program SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Program. It isn't working too well. People and some states still call them food stamps.

Food stamps are not the same as WIC. Food stamp entitlement is based on income. Food stamps allow the entitlees to pick and choose among the offerings of the supermarket. WIC is not only based on income, but on a voucher system tailored to pregnant and nursing mothers, and children under 5. One can go to the store and buy any brand of peanut butter with food stamps, or almond butter, or walnut butter, or even just butter. If the WIC voucher mandates peanut butter, there will not only be the amount of jars of peanut butter clearly listed on the voucher, but the brand will be limited to those approved by the Department of Agriculture. That would be the same method for the other offerings of WIC, including but not limited to eggs, milk, grain cereals, cheese, and 100% juice. WIC also involves well baby and child health care arrangements.
Food stamps have more possibilities. In Illinois, it is perfectly all right to purchase the following items with food stamps, although these items might not be healthy in mass quantities:
  • Soda pop.
  • Designer ice cream.
  • Birthday cake, or any rich, large cake (You go, Sara Lee!).
  • Candy or all types.
  • Kool Aid.
  • Those little jugs of flavored water with tons of sugar that masquerade as juice.
  • Potato chips.
  • Pretzels.
  • Gummy bears.
  • Gum.
  • Pork rinds.
I did not say this was a good idea. I just said it could be done.

The nice thing about food stamps everywhere: All food stamp purchases are exempt from sales tax. Good deal! The bad thing about food stamps: No dog or cat food, no laundry detergent, no toilet paper, no dish detergent, opportunity to buy lots of junk food and cause health issues. The nonpurchase of cleaning products can cause some angst among those who are having a very difficult time just getting food. No doubt the money saved on food purchases can be applied to cleanliness. However, silly little luxuries such as lights, a basic phone, and rent can get in the way of cleanliness.

What's this have to do with the retread parent?

The odds are very good your grandchildren already have a department of human services case worker, and are receiving food stamps. If they are receiving food stamps, they might also receive CHP health insurance from your state, and your dear adult child may even receive TANF if there's no child support. Your grandkids have a record in DHS!

So, when you go to DHS, have the case worker run their names, and if you happen to know them, their social security numbers (old tax returns- and we will cover claiming the grandkids in the next entry). If the kids receive nothing from DHS, it was only a brief check of information. If they do, then certain things will happen.

For one, if you have the kids, the adult child will no longer be able to claim the kids as part of his or her food stamp unit. If you qualify for food stamps with the kids in your household, they will become part of your food stamp unit, which is everybody who shares the same kitchen and eats together. Don't be surprised if this is a reality, that you are now eligible for food stamps when you weren't before the kids arrived. You have more mouths to feed on less money. Take the EBT card, and use it wisely, just as you would if you were in the supermarket using cash.

The adult child's TANF will also be diverted to you at this point. You will receive a medical card for the kids the next month. You will get a letter that entitles the school-aged children to free lunch. You will get a paper record with the children's social security numbers, and possibly your adult child number as well.

This will save you a lot of time. When you go to the attorney or advocate, you will have social security numbers. You will not have to sit in the Social Security Office, listening to the horrible video about applying for a social security card over and over again. You will not go to the window, only to be told that you have nothing to establish anything or that you need more documents and come back when you have them.

If you have had the kids for 6 months and 1 day, you qualify to claim them on your income tax this year. You'll need their social security numbers for that. You'll want to get that tax return in ASAP, to beat your adult child to it, for one, as the IRS might question why you both claimed them. You'll also be entitled to an Earned Income Credit if you earned any income.

But most importantly you will, right after approval, have a little more purchasing power when you go to the grocery store. The EBT card that holds your electronic food stamps is just like an ATM card. Angel Food, SHARE and Golden Share all take EBT cards. In some instances, your adult child and/ or the other parent of the children will be held responsible for repaying the food stamps, the TANF and the health insurance. So enjoy your trip to the grocery store, and buy the kids a 6-pack of candy bars, just this once.
If you're unsure about how to apply for food stamps in your state, follow the link:

AL http://www.dhr.state.al.us/page.asp?pageid=159A
K http://www.hss.state.ak.us/dpa/programs/fstamps/howto.html
AZ https://egov.azdes.gov/CMSInternet/common.aspx?menu=108&menuc=162&id=1712A
R http://www.state.ar.us/dhs/dco/OPPD/#Food%20Stamp%20Program
CA http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps/
CO http://stateboard.cdhs.state.co.us/FAP/fs/default.html
CT http://www.ct.gov/dss/cwp/view.asp?a=2353&q=320232
DE http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dss/foodstamps.html
FL http://www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/
GA http://dfcs.dhr.georgia.gov/portal/site/DHR-DFCS/menuitem.5d32235bb09bde9a50c8798dd03036a0/?vgnextoid=024a2b48d9a4ff00VgnVCM100000bf01010aRCRD
HI http://hawaii.gov/dhs/self-sufficiency/benefit/FNS
ID http://www.idahocareline.org/eLibrary/Food%20Stamps.html
IL http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=29721
IN http://www.in.gov/fssa/dfr/3051.htm
IA http://www.dhs.state.ia.us/Consumers/Assistance_Programs/FoodAssistance/index.html
KS http://www.srskansas.org/ISD/ees/food_stamps.htm
KY http://chfs.ky.gov/
LA http://www.dss.state.la.us/departments/ofs/Food_Stamp_Program.html
ME http://maine.gov/dhhs/OIAS/foodstamps/
MD http://www.dhr.state.md.us/how/cashfood/fstamp.htm
MA http://www.mass.gov/%20pageID=eohhs2agencylanding&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Government&L2=Departments+and+Divisions&L3=Department+of+Transitional+Assistance&sid=Eeohhs2MI http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124-5453_5527-21832--,00.html
MN http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/main/idcplg?IdcService=GET_DYNAMIC_CONVERSION&dDocName=id_002555&RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleasedMS http://www.mdhs.state.ms.us/ea_fs.html
MO http://www.dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/
MT http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/programsservices/foodstampprogramoverview.shtml
NE http://www.hhs.state.ne.us/fia/fstamps.htm
NV http://dwss.nv.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=243
NH http://www.dhhs.state.nh.us/DHHS/FOODSTAMPS/FAQs/default.htm
NJ http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dfd/foodstamp.html
NM http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/isd/fs.html
NY http://www.otda.state.ny.us/main/foodstamps/#benefits
AND FOR NEW YORK CITY http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/html/family_independence/foodstamps_and_foodprograms.shtmlNC http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/foodstamp/index.htm
ND http://www.nd.gov/dhs/services/financialhelp/foodstamps.html
OH http://jfs.ohio.gov/ofam/cmandfsa.stm
OK http://www.okdhs.org/programsandservices/food/
OR http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/assistance/foodstamps/foodstamps.shtml
PA http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/ServicesPrograms/FoodStamps/
RI http://www.dhs.state.ri.us/dhs/adults/fsadult.htm
SC http://www.state.sc.us/dss/fi/food/food_stamp.htm
SD http://dss.sd.gov/foodstamps/
TN http://www.tennessee.gov/humanserv/adfam/afs_fsp.htm
TX http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/help/food/foodstamps/index.html
UT http://jobs.utah.gov/opencms/customereducation/services/foodstamps/index.html
VT http://vermontfoodhelp.org/
VA http://www.dss.state.va.us/benefit/foodstamp.html
WA https://fortress.wa.gov/dshs/f2ws03esaapps/onlinecso/Food_Assistance_Program.asp
WV http://www.wvdhhr.org/bcf/family_assistance/fs.asp
WI http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/foodshare/
WY http://dfsweb.state.wy.us/foodstampinfo.html
SNAP program http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/faqs.htm

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stretching The Budget Some More--Obtaining & Storing Food (And Couple Other Things)

Recessions are not new. If you were around for the Ford, Carter or early Clinton administrations (I was around for all three of them, and few more besides), you might remember brief forays into budget control. I'm not talking about the National Debt. I'm talking about the household budget, stretched and pulled and pummeled into good behavior. When people couldn't buy at house with an interest rate under 15%, when we wore WIN buttons in an attempt to encourage ourselves to do better, when we brought our lunches to work in brown paper bags, when we took on an extra job.

Why this now? Well, times are tight, again. This will bring out the naysayers, who think Granny can't possibly take on a couple of little kids on her income.

I can be rather nasty at times. If somebody said that to me, and a couple have, I would simply tell them if they feel that way, they know how to spell my name for the check they plan to give me to help with this endeavor. It usually shuts them up in a hurry.

Some of the wonders to occur during these tight times:
  • Saving money in strange situations. Stashed in an attic suitcase. Taped to the bottom of drawers. In a fireproof box. In a tin can nailed to the floor. Buried in the back yard in a mason jar. Frozen assets in the deep freeze. People wanted their hands on their cash. It made them secure. We'll explore this later, but for now, let's just mention that there are ways to keep money at home for emergencies, and there are ways to use money to invite burglars to help themselves.
  • Making do or doing without (yes, it ends in a preposition). We will talk more about this down the road, but for now, creativity is the key as tube socks become dog toys and old boards become shelves when added to cinder blocks. I am well-versed in this. I hate to spend money for temporary things, and there is a lot in this world I consider temporary, much to the family's chagrin.
  • Good budget tactics. Look out, Dave Ramsey and Phil Lenahan! They are the fellas with the big picture. I have the small one. They may give every dollar a name. I wrestle every dollar to the floor and make it cry "Uncle" at least three times.
  • Meal creativity and flexibility. Each meal will be getting its own entry, and therefore, its own treatment.
  • Getting food in the first place. Nobody is out to embarrass, shame or harass when it comes to food. I might revisit this topic several times this year. The process changes with the seasons, as does the food items.

I like food. If you knew me, you'd be able to see just how much I like food. Suffice it to say, I enjoy the dining experience. Cooking- eh, that's a maybe. There have been a few food experiments in my life that even I would not eat.

For some of us, getting food is not a big deal. We get in the car, traipse down to the supermarket of choice, put our choices in the basket, wheel it to the checkout, pay the person, wheel it out to the car, take it home, unload it into proper storage area, and eat it as needed. No big deal. We could go do it again if we wanted to do it the next day.

Then there are those in pressed circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • Money to get food. I'll do a big entry on food stamps, how to get them, where to go in all fifty states. But there are people who have $20 to get $50 worth of food. Not fun.
  • Getting to the store. I am blessed to live in a suburb with sidewalks. If I wanted (and probably should- it'd be exercise), I could get a cute little cart and walk to not one, but four grocery stores. I also have a car to transport me. Others live in cities without a car where a bus trip is mandatory to any type of purchases. Some folks have to take cabs. Some folks have to rely on their own two feet or the generosity of family and friends to get miles away from their homes, where the food is.
  • Limited selection. Not everybody has a Jewel, Publix, Woodman's or Safeway nearby.
  • Teens. Yes, teens eat a great deal. Their bodies grow at a phenomenal rate. Even in the average household, a teenager can clean out a refrigerator in a matter of hours. When the groceries are ten miles away, and the older kids are eating like there's no tomorrow, it seems all a body can do is replenish, replenish, replenish.

Life has not always been a series of passive events for me. Not too many people know I was once married, young, to a guy who now claims he never had any children. That is partially true. He was too irresponsible to raise them, as they interfered with his "fun" in life. It was only when the Mister came long, we married, he adopted the older two, brought along with his joy for life, and shared his income did things get middle class for us. Otherwise, I encountered a series of daily challenges.

One of those challenges was obtaining food. I've walked a couple miles on dirt roads with small children as Sherpas, carrying what they could in their arms. I've begged, borrowed and paid for rides to get my cargo home when I did not have a license and/ or a car. I've sat in the human services office for hours at a time, while case workers went on break and ate goodies in front of hordes of children. I've been to the community food pantry, and received uncured ham as well as venison in my package of relief (and it was definitely a relief). To this day, it makes me extremely generous with those who do not have food. I feed everybody, even if I don't like them. Along with practical donations to the food pantry, I include chocolate, the Staff of Life as far as I'm concerned.

One of the best ways I've encountered to buy food is the food co-op or food buying club. There are a variety of clubs all over the United States and Canada. Some are little neighborhood operations, where private families buy cereal and other food at rock-bottom prices, storing them in their garages. There are co-ops for organic food, as well as community groups that base their operations on bulk items.

I am a big supporter of SHARE, or Self Help And Resource Exchange. SHARE has been in existence since 1983, when it was founded by a Catholic deacon in San Diego. SHARE used to offer a unit of groceries for a set price and 3 hours of volunteer service. The service could be anywhere, one on one or through a volunteer organization or church, including helping with SHARE. It was strictly trusting people to do the right thing and meet the requirements.

Now, SHARE packages are not regulated by volunteer hours, although people are still asked on the paper form how they volunteer. There are big units of food, known as the Big Value Package, for $25-$30 a unit. There are at least 5 protein dinner items, a couple protein items for lunch and breakfast, a starch or two, 7 produce items, maybe a dessert, and the surprise bonus item. The Big Value Package easily covers a family of two adults and two children, or two teenagers, for a week. The Mini Package, for $15-$20 a unit, offers 5 proteins, one starch, and 5 produce items, and is perfect for those who don't eat as much. SHARE also offers the opportunity to purchase case lot items, including frozen vegetables, meats, juice packs, dry goods and desserts. All the food is top quality, much of it organic and antibiotic free.

SHARE accepts food stamps as well as cash, checks, debit and credit cards. SHARE is open to all, whether one could walk into the grocery store and buy the same things for cash, or one uses food stamps. Everybody is equal at SHARE.

SHARE offerings can differ by location. You will need to check with your local site to get an order form, or to order online:

District of Columbia, Maryland, Northern Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (metro), North Carolina, Northern Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska. There are no web sites, but there are SHARE groups in Central Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota, and California. You will have to call around and find them.

Angel Food is another food buying club. It was started by an evangelical pastor and his wife in 1994, after hard times closed the local industrial plant. Sponsored by churches throughout the United States, it claims to feed over 500,000 families a month.

Angel Food offers several food units for sale each month. The Regular Box, for $30, includes about 10-12 pounds of protein, along with a few pounds of starches, always a dozen eggs, a couple pounds of frozen vegetables, and a dessert item. A smaller version, the Senior/ Convenience Box, contains full-cooked meals with at least 3 ounces of protein, a starch, and two vegetables or fruit. These meals have been frozen for heat-and-eat convenience. A unit of 10 meals, with accompanying dessert items, cost $28. Angel Food also offers packages for $15-$25 that include meats, vegetables, fresh produce, and sides.

To see if Angel Food is offered by a church or ministry in your area or to find out this month's menu offerings, click here.

I prefer SHARE over Angel Food. I like the fact that SHARE will allow me to assist where I can in the unloading and packaging of the food. SHARE does not put a tract in my units that goes against my religious beliefs. Most importantly, SHARE treats me with a measure of dignity, and treats everybody at the site with a measure of dignity.

I don't find this at the Angel Food sites I have encountered. It might be a different story where you live. I sometimes feel condescended and pitied at Angel Food. I don't understand this, as there is no need to pity me. Angel Food clearly states that it is open to all economic income brackets, as is SHARE. I use SHARE and Angel Food to stretch my budget, but I don't need my children patted on the head when they come with me to help me load the cargo. I don't need to be pitied, even if I was down to my last $30. Maybe some Angel Food people could explain. I don't care if SHARE offers a great deal of chicken products (although SHARE is trying to do better with pork and beef products). I am not an object of pity, and neither all the other people who use food buying clubs, simply because we avail ourselves of this program.

On the other hand, if you need the services of Angel Food, by all means use them.

San Diego also offers Golden Share. Their motto, "If you eat, you qualify."

I don't have to tell a veteran grandparent how to bargain shop for food, particularly grandmothers. I don't have to explain to them the use of coupons, shopping cards, and other store bonuses. If you've fallen out of practice, get your worn and torn copy of The Tightwad Gazette off the shelf and review.

I will mention that it is my personal opinion that children need snacks and treats, though rare the sugary-sweet drivel offered on TV. It is also my personal opinion that teens need to eat to grow. Toward that end, if you have any space at all in your home to develop a pantry, now is the time to use it.

We moved to what we considered to be an empty-nester in 2000. We purposely did not take the house that had 4 bedrooms, two kitchens, and a completely remodeled basement because we did NOT want anybody to move in with us. Little did we know.

I managed over the summer to convert a portion of the garage to a pantry. I have some IKEA shelving units that weren't doing anything useful. I have a freezer, a big one. I have some other shelves that weren't doing too much, and a cabinet firmly attached above the freezer. I also have a blank wall in my kitchen that wasn't doing anything but sitting there, staring at us. Between SHARE, extreme seasonal sales and some smart purchases at Aldi, we have a nicely stockpiled pantry.

I don't know what to tell you to put in your pantry. I can send you to the USDA, but I bet your kids don't like certain foods recommended there. I know mine don't. So, I would recommend you get what you like and the kids like that can be stored for a long period of time. There is no reason in the United States that people can't eat what they like and still remain healthy. This is what we currently have:

  • HERBS AND SPICES- Salt and peppercorns, basil, oregano, tarragon, sage, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg (the actual nuts), dehydrated powdered garlic, dehydrated powdered onion, celery seed, various ground chilies, chili powder (Texas style), allspice, cardamon, seasoned salt, Mrs. Dash.
  • CANNED VEGGIES- Green beans, corn, spinach, carrots, tomatoes (crushed, RoTel, paste, sauce), potatoes, potato salad, 3 bean salad, asparagus. This is what we eat, and what the kids eat.
  • CANNED FRUIT- Apricots, mandarin oranges, pineapple (crushed, cubed), applesauce, dumb little containers of gelatin with fruit, no sugar added fruit cocktail, pears, cherries, blueberries.
  • JUICE BOXES/ JUICE CANS- V8, Juicy Juice, Boing!, Ocean Spray.
  • CONDIMENTS- Mustard, catsup, mayo, BBQ sauce, artichokes, olives, olive oil,
  • MEAT- Frozen ground beef, hot dogs, chicken tenders, chicken pieces, ham, cheeses, yogurt, butter, bacon, sausage (breakfast links and patties, kielbasa, Italian), beef roasts (2), turkey (1, but it's a big one), talapia, salmon, fake crab, veal (osso buco cuts), shrimp. Sadly, there is never any room for bread in the freezer. Refrigerated ham in a can, bacon, cheeses, yogurt. Canned tuna, Spam, chicken, deviled ham.
  • STAPLE PRODUCTS AND PASTA- Several boxes of mac n cheese, the kind with the little packet of orange cheese powder. Penne, mostaccoli, spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine. Rice, beans, split peas.
  • CEREAL- Oatmeal, in its steel-cut form as well as the stuff in the box that cooks quickly. Various dried cereals, purchased on sale, two Rubbermaid tubs of different boxes.
  • BAKING STUFF- Boxed cornbread, pizza crust and muffin mix. Cake mixes. Flour, sugar (white, brown, powdered), molasses, salt (kosher and iodized), nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds), baking powder, baking soda, dehydrated egg whites, vegetable oil, shortening. I only use one can of shortening in a year. I only have one backup of that.
  • OTHER STUFF- Upteedump cans of soup, different varieties, we are talking caseloads. Canned chili. Antiseptic paper containers of broth and stock. Canned evaporated milk, a case of 24 cans. Two cases of bottled water. 4 boxes of graham crackers. 2 boxes of saltines. 2 12-packs of soda pop. 4 frozen packs of Girl Scout cookies, along with frozen stuffed pasta. Popsicles. Chocolate bars, good ones, dark chocolate (for us, not the kids). Peanut butter, almond butter, jelly, jams.

Yes, it is important to keep a stock list. Food expires (click here). The food you bought first needs to be used first. If you are down to the last two cans of something, it is time to start looking at replenishment. Watch for mites, weevils, other bugs, mice, chipmunks, and other rodents.

Don't forget necessary incidentals. It never hurts to stock up on laundry detergent, fabric softener, toilet paper, soap, feminine hygiene products (particularly for teen girls), cotton swabs, toothpaste, tooth brushes and pain relievers.

I've found that certain times of the year mean certain things are on sale. In our area, the following months mean BIG savings on some things:

  • JANUARY- Popcorn, the kind you make yourself, goes on sale now. Look for some grocers to start to clear out their canned soup, along with potatoes and onions. If you are fond of peppermint, consider the candy canes for 25 cents a box. They make great cookies, and are fabulous melted in hot cocoa. Ditto the Christmas candy. For that matter, if you are in the market for cosmetics for you or the teens who live with you, now is the time to buy all those closed-out gift sets. Christmas patterned paper products, including Christmas toilet paper, are marked down, way down. It is also time to reload on pain relievers and cold remedies.
  • FEBRUARY- If you wait until after February 15, you will find more chocolate than you ever imagined dirt cheap. There is nothing quite like chunked Hershey's in a homemade chocolate chip! Chocolate stores very easily left in its wrappings in cool, dark, a little dry places. The freezer keeps it well. As an aside, this is also a good time to buy valentine cards, and little goodies for girls' parties. I managed to acquire a lot of cute teddy bears for a party last year. Normally $3, I obtained them for 75 cents each. Put them away in place where you can find them again.
  • MARCH- St. Patrick's Day is March 17. St. Joseph Day is March 19. If you live in an area where one or both of these days is celebrated, there will be sales on corned beef (I like the flat cut), Italian/ pseudo-Italian products, beer, wine, pistachios, gelato, potatoes, cabbage and butter. It is also time for the annual Lenten fish extravaganza, especially canned tuna. Even if you are not Catholic, if you have fish eaters, now is the time to stock up on tuna, mahi-mahi, talapia, salmon and good old fish sticks. Seeds and bulbs of all types, not just for vegetables, go on sale now. If you are a gardener, stock up.
  • APRIL- The day after Easter is the day the aisles and aisles of candy go on sale. Ham makes its first sale appearance of the year, along with lamb and mayonnaise. Eggs are tricky. Eggs are usually offered as a lost leader item, or with the purchase of such-and-such, or limit one (which means going in to the store several times, or arming the children with money to buy one dozen each). Those cute Easter lambs made of butter go on deep sale Easter Monday, as well (Who says you can't use them after Easter, and butter freezes). Look also for spring items, such as artificial flowers (Graduation party? First Communion? Mother's Day?). Sour cream, cream cheese, snack crackers, spring veggies such as green onions.
  • MAY- Have you been thinking about getting out the grill? Give pause and also think about more disposable food service items, such as plastic utensils, paper plates, paper napkins, and cheapo plastic tablecloths. Soda pop makes its first big sale of the year in time for Memorial Day, as do potato chips. Mayonnaise makes another sale for all that picnicky potato salad.
  • JUNE- Ice cream and ice cream novelty products such as popscicles start in June. Kool-Aid goes on sale, as does its necessary element, sugar. Bottled water comes to fore with a big sale.
  • JULY- It is time for Walmart and Target to vie for your back-to-school dollar. Walmart will have deep, deep sales on school supplies, and the local Target will compete. While not food items, most kids require school supplies. Why wait, when crayons are a dime a box, and notebooks are a nickel each? If you are not the crafty type who makes the grandchildren lunch keepers out of scraps of fabric and batting, be sure to look at lunch containers and boxes, plastic wrap, 100 paper bags in a package, Lunchables (I think they are cardboard served as lunch, but hey, your kids might like them, and despite packaging to the contrary, Lunchables DO freeze), disposable yet not disposable plastic storage containers, zip-closing bags, thermoses, and other such items that aren't necessarily groceries, but help preserve and transport food. It's also the start of tomato time, along with the start of pepper time (green, jalepenos, etc.).
  • AUGUST- MELON TIME!!!!!!!!! Get your melons!!!!!!!! Melon freezes, and makes a wonderful snack in the heat. Lemons and limes also freeze. Corn really comes into its own in August, as does a host of summer veggies.
  • SEPTEMBER- Hot dogs go on sale as the summer wanes, along with other grill products.
  • OCTOBER- For some reason, in our area, laundry detergent goes on sale in October in a big way. It seems that's when the companies who produce it come out with new product lines. The really big sale of cold products and painrelievers happens now, even though the cold and flu season is not quite upon us.
  • NOVEMBER- All the Halloween candy and costumes nobody wanted at Walmart are there to buy at a fabulously reduced rate. If you think the kids will be with you next year, load up on whatever it is that makes their costumes. Get ready for food in a big way. Thanksgiving is here. Pumpkin, canned and fresh, is available at a really reduced rate, along with fresh and canned cranberries. If you like these year round, stock up (fresh cranberries freeze right in the plastic bag). Soda pop. Canned pineapple, Jello and whipped cream products. Premade pie crusts. Turkeys and hams. Celery, green peppers, cream cheese, snack foods that you might not normally buy (chips, pretzels, popcorn, crackers).
  • DECEMBER- Anything having to with baking, including flour, sugar, candied fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, cake mixes, and pie crusts. Soda pop. Canned pineapple. Marishino cherries. Turkeys and hams. Jello. Liquor, wine and beer (for you, if you drink, and don't have some alcoholic roaming your cupboards). Seasonal fresh veggies and fruits include oranges, apples, tangerines, potatoes, onions and nuts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year! Let's Stretch Your Cash!

I have been off enjoying my Christmas with family and friends. I have also been poking my nose into research to find out just how to stretch dollars for grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. who have taken in children that are related to them. And I've had some interesting results.

First, my disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer. I am NOT social worker (although I've met some very nice ones). I am a grandmother, raising what are my biological grandchildren and now my adoptive children.

Now then- You might not have a money problem raising the extra kiddos. You might be wealthy, for one (and good on you!). Many grandparents these days in this situation are young. They are still working. And working. And working. And making enough money to support kids, and even to carrying them on insurance.

Some grandparents need that extra boost of assistance. This was not something they foresaw, and something for which they did not plan.

GOOD NEWS! From my research, I think it's safe to say in all fifty states parents have an obligation to support their children, not grandparents and other relatives. This means that your dear adult children or siblings are hopefully going to be held responsible for their children's needs.

It's not so much the who of will be paying the grandchildren's bills, but the how is it going to be collected, and what does a grandparent do in the interim.

Grandparents who find themselves raising grandchildren can go to whatever agency in their state that assists in gaining benefits such as food stamps, and grant block health insurance for children. In Illinois, it clearly states in the DHS Workers Action Manual that

"The only relatives who are legally required to provide support are:
Spouses: Spouse for spouse, whether living together or not;
Parents: Parent(s) for children (including married children) under 18 years of age, except for a child of any age who has married, regardless of the current marital status, who is not living with the parent(s)."

Other states also have this rule as well, in different words.

When a grandparent goes to DHS or similar state agency, even if the grandparent has yet to get custody papers, the grandparent may apply for the grandchildren to receive benefits without counting the grandparent's income toward support of the grandchildren. In this case, the grandchildren as called "indigent minors" and the grandparent is known as the RPY, or the representative payee. Your grandchildren should then be eligible for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). The grandchildren should also be eligible for health insurance through one of the many CHP projects.

You might have to fill out forms, and include your income information on them. However, you should include somewhere on the document, even if you have to add it in the margins, "These are my grandchildren, not my children. I am their RPY." This is usually enough to indicate to DHS that DHS should not include your income into the mix.

Food stamps is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. The requirements for food stamps are structured differently, in that a unit is considered all the people who live under one roof and eat together. Double-check on this, and don't be surprised if your grandkids qualify for TANF and insurance, but not food stamps. The good news is that you will complete this process in a matter of a couple weeks, and have an EBT card in your hand no later than 14 days from the day you started the process.

In most states, by applying for TANF and insurance on behalf of the children, a case is started with whatever agency to obtain child support for the children from the absent parents. In Illinois, that is Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). Do not hold your breath waiting for them to start the process, which involves an initial interview and then a referral to the county states attorney. Unfortunately, you are not the only one trying to support grandchildren, or children for that matter. The list, and the wait, are long.

When you apply for guardianship, have your attorney or advocate also motion for temporary child support. You can then walk into HFS with a court order they can enforce.

Enforcing a support order used to take sometimes years, and then collecting wasn't all that easy. Today, it is better; not perfect, but better. The agency has software that can chase down deadbeat parents by name, social security number, and last address. But again, don't hold your breath waiting for money to come rolling into the children's lives.

Speaking of social security numbers, etc., any documentation you have that the grandchildren are indeed your grandchildren, and the children of your children, will be appreciated by the human services agency, as well as by the child support collecting agency. Some of this might include:

  • Your own birth certificate.
  • Your marriage license to your adult child's father.
  • Your divorce decree from your adult child's father if it mentions your adult child.
  • Your adult child's birth certificate.
  • Your adult child's social security number.
  • Any paperwork left behind by your adult child, including old utility bills.
  • If they got left behind, the children's birth certificates and social security numbers. The school might have these on file.