Many people talk about solutions to the ongoing opioid epidemic.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski has taken an important step toward addressing one of its often overlooked tolls.
House Bill 1539, of which Pashinski is prime sponsor, would grant grandparents temporary guardianship of their grandchildren when the youngsters’ parents become unable to care for them due to addiction issues.
During a roundtable meeting this week between Gov. Tom Wolf and area grandparents at the the Jewish Community Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pashinski said the bill is before the Senate for its third consideration. He told the grandparents and all others to contact their state senators to urge them to vote for passage of the bill.
First, there is a very humane reason for doing so: Keeping families together. The trauma of losing a parent, temporarily or otherwise, to addiction is tragic enough for a child. It would be far better for these youths to remain in the care of loving family members, whenever possible, than getting entangled in the bureaucracy of the system at a time when they desperately need love, support and stability.
This is not to disparage the efforts of good-hearted foster families, of whom there are many, but rather a plea to untangle the legal red tape that can unintentionally split youths from kin.
Second, there is a very significant public policy justification: According to General Assembly research, Pennsylvania grandparents are saving the state an estimated $1 billion a year by keeping their grandchildren out of the foster care system, reporter Bill O’Boyle pointed out. That figure may be even higher because many of the grand-families are not on the state’s radar.
Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, who participated in Wednesday’s event, added that an estimated 82,000 grandparents are the sole caregivers for nearly 89,000 grandchildren in Pennsylvania, and the number is increasing due to the opioid crisis.
Pashinski was able to generate bipartisan support in proposing the legislation. His 30 co-sponsors were made up of 21 fellow Democrats and nine Republicans, including Butler Twp. Rep. Tarah Toohil.
The good news was that Pashinski’s bill passed the House by a 192-0 vote in April, and Wolf said Wednesday that when the legislation reaches his desk, he will sign it.
The bad news is that it is only one step toward bringing temporary healing to families amid a crisis that shows no significant signs of abating.
When Wednesday’s emotion-filled discussion was over, Wolf said he would return to Harrisburg and step up his efforts to urge the state Legislature to remove all barriers to services needed to ease the burden on grandparents.
As grandparent Brenda Saba told the governor, “Pennsylvania can do better.”
“Pennsylvania needs to do more for us,” she added.
We certainly hope it will.
— Times Leader