Steve Pressly, owner of Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home in Rock Island and Milan, has been waiting months to be reimbursed by the state of Illinois for seven to eight indigent funerals he's performed so far this year.
It's a service that many Quad-City area funeral homes provide via money from the state. But if those funds aren't found by Wednesday, the start of the state's next fiscal year, Pressly could be waiting a long time.
The Illinois Legislature has been in special session attempting to hammer out a budget that closes a $11.6 billion deficit. The Illinois Department of Human Services said it has had to make a host of cuts, including funerals and burials for the state's indigent.
"We are fortunate in that we can wait a little for our money, but there are funeral homes that can't," Pressly said. "They can't keep advancing funds and not have anybody reimburse them."
Funeral homes have a lot of overhead, he added, including caskets, embalming, insurance, and of course, wages and benefits to workers.
"When I started 32 years ago, we could apply to the township," he said. "They had a relief fund. If they weren't receiving funds from the state, they could apply to the township. My understanding is the township doesn't do that anymore."
That being said, "there's not a funeral home that wouldn't provide the service somehow," Pressly added. "We all have that responsibility to provide a funeral."
Each year, the state pays about $15 million to bury about 10,000 people, said Tom Green, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, or DHS.
According to Illinois law, a person receiving state aid can have the state pay for funeral and burial expenses "if the estate of a deceased recipient is insufficient to pay for funeral and burial expenses, and if no other resources, including assistance from legally responsible relatives, are available for such purposes."
Everything not included in entitlements or legislatively mandated programs got cut, Green said. Those cuts include child care, some services for people with disabilities, and substance abuse programs.
"Hopefully over the next couple of days the General Assembly will come up with an alternative to the previous budget passed," Green said.
Green said that funeral homes that have provided funerals for indigents during the 2009 budget will be paid the standard maximum of $1,103 per funeral and cemeteries will receive the $552 in burial costs.
Rep. Mike Boland, D-Moline, said there is something in the works that may help.
"It looks like we're going to be passing next week taking out a note based on the pension system that we will basically be borrowing for five years that will produce $2.230 billion, which will help us provide for those human services that are under the gun right now," Boland said.
"That moves us basically from a budget of 50 percent up to 70-75 percent," he said. "But, we're still facing a shortfall of 25 percent."
Green said that before funerals for the indigent can be reinstated, "we have to see what actually comes in before making any determination."
Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson said that if the state doesn't pick up the tab for indigent burials, the county, by law, must.
"At the end of the day, we are responsible for taking care of our own in Rock Island County," Gustafson said. He called the situation in Springfield "political posturing."
"I look forward to taking care of those that I serve. But I thoroughly expect this to resolve itself," he said.
Rock Island County Board Chairman James Bohnsack said that the county has no money in the budget for indigent burials. "And they're telling me it could be between 100-120 deaths each year," he said. "That's more than $100,000 a year. We have never budgeted any money for that. And it's the statute that says we have to do it. It's true it falls back on the county."
Bohnsack said the county would then try to find the next of kin of the deceased and get the money back from them.
"It's really their responsibility," he said. "We'd get the right people paying for that burial.
"You'd think the state would have done that," Bohnsack added. "Maybe they don't. Sometimes when you get that big you just pay it."