Cuts force funeral homes to stop offering public aid funerals

Cuts force funeral homes to stop offering public aid funerals

Due to budget cuts, the state has stopped paying for funerals for the poor, and funeral homes have stopped offering public aid funerals.

As a result, families and counties will take on more of the costs to bury or cremate a loved one.

Until recently the Illinois Department of Human Services paid funeral and burial expenses for people who were enrolled in public aid programs such as KidCare Assist or Family Assist. The deceased's next-of-kin or a funeral home could claim the amount, up to about $1,600.

Jim Yost, owner of Owens Funeral Home in Champaign, said his business has provided public aid funerals for decades and he considers it a public service. But he is owed several thousand dollars from the state for services, and the amount the state pays does not cover the actual costs of a funeral.

"It's one thing to do a funeral for that price, but to have to wait all that time? It's not helping cash flow," he said. "They have made some efforts in catching up. I've received about a dozen checks (from the state) in the last six weeks," he added.

For the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, the state's funeral program received $1.9 million in funding, compared with $12.6 million for the previous fiscal year.

"The General Assembly did not provide adequate funding to run the program for a full year," said Januari Smith Trader, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

About $12.6 million covers about 12,000 funerals and burials. With $1.9 million for this year, the state had enough to cover funerals for people who died during the first six weeks of the fiscal year. The maximum the state pays is $1,103 for a funeral and $552 for a burial.

"The money didn't go very far," Smith Trader said.

Funeral homes were notified in August about the budget situation. But long before that, many stopped holding public aid funerals because the amount the state paid did not cover costs and because payments arrived late, in many cases six months late, according to funeral directors.

"This is a huge problem. Most funeral homes have gotten to the point of requiring down payments that a lot of people don't have," Leslie Lux of Lux Memorial Chapel in Rantoul.

She said they don't want to pressure people to have a big funeral, but "I at least need to have my costs covered."

She's seen many people turn to friends and family members and churches to come up with the money for a funeral.

If a person remains unclaimed from the hospital, for example, and is very poor, the county coroner's office is called to pick up the body from the hospital.

"If they are truly indigent, ultimately it is up to the county to do something with the individual," Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said.

If the person is a veteran, the coroner's office can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs and seek help in picking up the tab.

If the person is not a veteran, cannot receive public aid funeral assistance and there are no personal possessions the county can seize to cover costs, "we can bury them at the county's expense, which is pretty pricey (a grave opening and closing is around $875 not including the casket or if they're required to have a vault)," Northrup said.

The county can also have the body cremated. And it can be donated to science, which does not cost anything other than transportation to the Anatomical Gift Association in Chicago, according to Northrup.

The Champaign coroner's office used to handle about one to two indigent cases a year, now it's closer to six to nine a year, he said.

The office also has received a lot more calls from people requesting information and looking for assistance, he said.

"It's tough. We definitely have seen an increase since the economy started to falter," Northrup said.

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mankind wrote on October 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

Easy to ignore the poor and the dead.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on October 19, 2011 at 10:10 am
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It's amazing how much we learn — during times of budget crisis — about the spending of public funds.

I wonder what Jessica Mitford would say about this program.

mmemartinez wrote on October 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I'm generally a liberal-minded person and I don't have a problem with most public aid type programs. But I'm sorry, if you don't have the insurance you need for a proper burial/cremation or the funds, that's just too bad. No one is entitled to that. Donate your body to science and have a nice service at your church. Done and done.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on October 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm
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prideCU wrote on October 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

What do you suggest to the families of the deceased whose bodies have been declined from the anatomical society, since not all deceased are accepted into the program? Hmmmm? What do you suggest to the parents who never expected to suddenly lose their young child? Too bad? Parents of young children do not often think of putting away money for a child who is not terminally ill to prepare for a funeral. Um, normally, we parents of young children are preparing them for college in the future and other costs related to their LIVING.

mmemartinez wrote on October 20, 2011 at 9:10 am

If you're preparing them for college and the future then you probably should be saving money and thus would have funds in case of the worst. Or life insurance on the child. If you don't, that's poor planning. As for the rejected bodies, fine, but what happens to unclaimed persons who die every day? You can have a service to mourn without there being a body in a room.

I'd rather see these kinds of funds used to help the living - providing healthcare, food, shelter and quality education. Call me crazy.

vnconn wrote on October 25, 2011 at 8:10 am

I could not agree more with the previous poster. Donate your body to science and let your family have a service at your church.

Mugzy wrote on October 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Not enough money to bury our dead, eh? pitiful.

Cstraight wrote on October 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm

haha! Ooops! I laughed out loud at this one! It sure is pitful!

Fromthearea wrote on October 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I'm surprised at the lack of empathy in the comments. Anyone who's watched someone be ripped apart foremost by grief and then by worry over respectfully taking care of a loved one's body would have a more sympathetic reply to this. This shows the really sorry condition of things in this state, and maybe our own community if people really think this way towards others. The only shocking crime in this whole article is that photoshopped picture at the top of the article.

chambanachik wrote on October 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Completely agree. I'm disgusted.

WiltonDiary wrote on October 21, 2011 at 4:10 am

Why would you or anyone expect less from the same people who cheer death, boo American solders serving in Iraq, blame the unemployed for
the mess the USA is in and support electric border fenses that are charged kill humans?

These are the same people that have spent months mourning the death of Osama bin Laden and now crying over the death of Gaddafi! They have exploited 9 1 1 for the past ten years and have spent the last four years working overtime to destroy the current president and the USA.

black bart wrote on October 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

It costs a lot of money to die but no one is getting out of here alive. Some times you wonder why it does cost so much to open and close a grave. Why do caskets cost so much?.Why do the funeral homes have to be so posh, so ornate, that ordinary people can't afford what they charge for buriel. Why does a home for the dead cost 10 times more than a home for the living?..Why do you never see a poor funeral director driving an old vehicle and living in a poor area of town? Just wondering................

Valere B wrote on October 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I work in death care, specifically whole body donation to support medical education and research. I am an advocate for people to plan and talk about final arrangements at any age or condition in their life. I know what the wishes are for all of my family members and I have peace of mind knowing I can carry out their wishes. Working with families in grief has taught me that we all need to prepare for our inevitable demise regardless of our health condition. Surprises happen and the family goes through worse trauma and grief trying to determine what to do without any direction. And yes, it is expensive to be buried or cremated let alone the cost for a funeral! Body donation is an option to consider too - our program is completely no cost( and many people have shared with me "at least something positive came out of this unexpected death" - even better if the person who died expressed their desire and wish to donate ahead of time! There are basically only three options for body disposition at this moment in time = burial, cremation or donation.

Yatiri wrote on October 21, 2011 at 1:10 am

and I'll wager some of them go to church every Sunday

WiltonDiary wrote on October 21, 2011 at 3:10 am

Dental gold is always an option to cover funeral expenses for those who might have been more fortunate in life and invested in gold fillings and gold lined bridge-work.

Once the undertaker has extracted the gold (which he will do anyway for himself) you take the gold to any dealer or jeweler who buys gold and that should cover not only the cost of cremation but also
some flowers and a pot pie or two for dinner after the funeral.

PS: Even you are not financially challenged make sure you the undertaker personally gives you the dental gold from the deceased.

Also make arrangements with the funeral director to remove any implanted medical devices such as pace-makers and defibrillators
(they are worth thousands of do$$ars). YOU can donate them to the
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine to be used to save animals and for continuing

Please note: Used implanted medical devices are very sought after and sold on the "gray market," as another source or revenue for those small businessmen struggling in the current
environment, to help pay for those fancy coaches, autos and ornate settings. Wink Wink!