When Shirley became a grandma, her only daughter, Sarah, wasn’t married, but Shirley was excited to be a grandma and spoil her granddaughter rotten.
But soon, the family dynamic shifted. Sarah suffered from Substance Use Disorder and couldn’t take care of her daughter; Shirley understood that, so she did what any grandmother would do: she took her granddaughter into her home, knowing she’d be safe, cared for, and loved.
It wasn’t long before Sarah had another child, then another.
By the time Shirley came to Legal Aid of WV (LAWV), she had five grandchildren. Four of them lived with her full-time, and one granddaughter lived with her father, Roy.
Since she was retired, Shirley had to begin working again part-time to help support her grandchildren, and she got some help from the State with benefits.
“For 10 years, I raised the first children with no money, no help other than food stamps and Medicaid for their health,” she says. “Finally, I get to the point that I have four kids, and I can’t do it anymore. I asked for help.”
Shirley participated in the Healthy Grandfamilies program, where she learned about resources available to grandparents raising their grandchildren, including income benefits through the WV DHHR.
She and Roy also came up with an idea to try to help with finances and juggling raising kids: they decided to rent a house together so the grandchildren could all live together in a nicer, bigger house. They found a two-floor rental, and Roy and his daughter moved into the second floor while Shirley and the other four children lived on the first floor.
Shirley, always diligent and detail-oriented, reported their move to the DHHR just as she was required. Their response was a letter informing her all income benefits would be terminated.
“I finally asked for money. Then they took it away when I tried to improve our lives.”
After her application, LAWV got to work with Shirley to get her benefits reinstated. Halfway through the benefits case, the family’s rental house ceiling started leaking, so Shirley and Roy withheld their rent, trying to motivate their landlord to fix it. He responded with an eviction letter instead.
LAWV went with Shirley and Roy to their eviction hearing to ensure that on top of benefits, Shirley didn’t lose the (albeit leaky) roof over their heads.
Finally, after almost two years and many bumps in the road, Shirley got her income benefits back, with backpay for all the months she had missed.
“I don’t know what I would have done without Legal Aid,” Shirley says.“They did for me what needed to be done that I couldn’t do for myself. I had dug down, and I didn’t have anything left. They fought for me. And that is crazy wonderful. They came when I needed it the most.
“Getting these benefits means we can stay together as a family; these sisters can know each other; and I don’t have to do every single thing by myself because Roy is there helping. He helps the kids have a father figure that they need. I’ve seen so many children without a father figure.
“I would recommend that anyone that thinks they have a legal issue that they can’t afford a lawyer, just call Legal Aid. I didn’t know when I approached them if they would help at all, and I would just say trust the process. They know what they’re doing. They’re intelligent, highly educated. They know the system.”