Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent suspension of state payments for indigent funerals will lead to delays in bodies being picked up from hospitals, nursing homes and morgues, funeral industry officials said Monday.
“You will see the coroner system holding bodies longer and funeral homes less able to do a removal if they don’t really know there’s a payment source,” said Jay Markwell, a funeral director from Casey and president of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association.
The Rauner administration informed the association a few days ago that it will stop paying claims submitted after Jan. 15 for funerals of public-aid recipients. The action is estimated to save $6.9 million in the current fiscal year and is part of $26 million in cuts Rauner announced last week.
Rauner has proposed zeroing-out funding for the program in fiscal 2016.
The state in recent years has paid between $10 million and $11 million annually for the program, which reimburses up to $1,103 for a funeral and about $500 for burial expenses for indigent clients. Between 8,500 and 9,900 funerals are covered each year.
Funding for the program was suspended for a few months in fiscal 2012 by Gov. Pat Quinn, Rauner’s predecessor, before the money was reinstated.
That situation caused problems for funeral directors, especially those in Cook County, as well as the Cook County morgue, according to Spencer Leak Jr., vice president of Chicago-based Leak and Sons Funeral Homes.
Leak said his family’s company, which serves mostly African-American families, is owed more than $100,000 for funeral costs billed since Jan. 15. One-quarter of the company’s business, or 300 to 400 funerals each year, involves families that receive help from the state to cover final expenses.
Leak said Rauner can’t be blamed for the state’s budget problems. “Gov. Rauner came into a nightmare,” Leak said.
However, Leak said, “We need to be paid for funerals we’ve already serviced.”
For the new fiscal year, Leak said, elimination of public-aid funerals is “going to be devastating for the African-American community. It’s going to cause a lot of stress for a lot of people. Without assistance from the government, where are those families to go?”
Sangamon County Coroner Cinda Edwards doesn’t expect the funding cut will be as big of a problem in central Illinois.
“It is a concern,” she said. “Everybody’s going to have to dip in and work harder to find a solution. It’s unfortunate.”
Added Brian Murphy, owner of Springfield’s Vancil-Murphy Funeral Home, “Usually when push comes to shove, families will be able to come up with something” to pay funeral homes.
Source: State Journal Register