SPRINGFIELD — State officials have made it official: Beginning later this month, there will be no more money to help pay funeral and burial costs for poor people.
In a letter sent to 600 funeral directors, cemeteries and coroners, the Illinois Department of Human Services said it would only guarantee payments for funeral and burial claims through Aug. 15.
The fact that the assistance is being cut off isn’t a surprise given the state’s budget problems. But the timing is somewhat quicker than expected since Illinois is only a month into its new fiscal year.
DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith blamed the demise of the program on the General Assembly.
“They just did not give us adequate funding in this budget,” Smith said Wednesday.
In previous years, the $12.6 million program paid for about 12,000 funerals and burials for deceased people who have been receiving public aid. Funeral homes that participate in the program receive a maximum of $1,103 for a funeral and $552 for a burial.
In the budget approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, funding for the program dropped to $1.9 million.
Smith said the department is hopeful lawmakers will allocate more money for the program when they return to the Capitol for the fall veto session in late October.
“I can’t say there is a solution. Our hands are tied,” Smith said.
Rep. Dan Brady, a licensed funeral home director and former county coroner, said counties could hold unclaimed remains in local morgues until money is found for burials. He also said funeral homes could refuse to provide services to indigent people.
The Bloomington Republican said families also could donate the body to medical science.
“Obviously, it’s not a good situation,” Brady said.
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Costs also could be shifted to counties or township government, but local officials say they aren’t prepared to handle the additional expense.
Rock Island County officials, for example, estimate the county would be on the hook for more than $100,000 if the funding were shifted from the state to the counties.
Coles County Coroner Ed Schniers said funeral homes could try to negotiate with families to find ways to continue providing the services. If that doesn’t work, counties could start seeing an influx of unclaimed remains.
In rural areas, however, there is less storage room in morgues, raising potential problems if the situation isn’t resolved.
“It doesn’t take long for a morgue to overflow,” Schiers said. “I’m hoping for the best.“
Funeral director David Goebel of Moran & Goebel Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Decatur predicted that families will have to come up with more money when faced with holding services for an indigent relative.
“We just can’t keep providing services and not get paid for what we provide,” Goebel said. “It’s going to cause a great dilemma for a lot of Illinois residents.“