Fewer Funeral Funds for Illinois PoorGov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois announced recently that he would move to cut the Funeral & Burial Benefits program from the 2016 state budget and is cutting the program for the remainder of this year. This benefit has served to reimburse indigent families and individuals for part of the cost of funeral services, including burials and cremation. The cut is part of efforts by the governor to make good on his promise to narrow the $1.6 billion shortfall in the Illinois budget without borrowing money or raising taxes.

Recent History of Program

The benefits program cost the state $9.5 million in 2014. In the last fiscal year, the program served 8,649 people below the poverty line. The benefit does not generally cover the full cost of either an internment or a cremation. The data show the following:

  • Cost of an average funeral in 2012: $7,045
  • State benefit for internment: $1,103
  • State benefit for cremation: $552

The cut-off date for the benefit was January 15 of this year. People have one year to submit qualifying claims that occurred between October of last year and January 2015.

Funeral Homes Affected

According to the Chicago Sun Times, although the program officially ended January 15, the announcement of the budget cut was not made until April 3. For funeral directors, this may mean that they may see no payment for services provided between January 15 and April. Spencer Leak of Leak & Sons Funeral Home on the South Side of Chicago does not fault the governor for trying to fix the budget but feels that the cut may significantly and negatively affect his business. While Leak stands to lose thousands of dollars from services performed that may go unpaid, he says he remains committed to continued service to his community. Leak suggested that these cuts would change the face of African-American funerals in the Chicago area, with more families choosing to rent caskets and have their loved ones cremated rather than buried.

One Program Among Many

The announcement of the elimination of reimbursements for funeral services for the poor is one among a number of notifications of cuts to state programs. Illinois residents may expect a reduction in a broad range of social and public health services. Groups and individuals that qualified for burial benefits may have been eligible under association with All Kids Assist, Family Assist, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled, and General Assistance for Foster Care/Adoption Care. Gov. Rauner was elected partially due to his platform to reduce Illinois' debt and turn its economic picture around. The governor was quoted as saying, "Government is not a welfare system."

Programs Elsewhere

Benefit programs for burial and cremation services for the poor are not universal. Nor are they administered similarly where they do exist. In Illinois, the benefits have been administered through the state. An alterantive example is California, where burial and cremation benefits come through county by county. Other states offer services through town or municipal government offices. Still other states offer no programs whatsoever for burial reimbursement to the poor.

Potential Consequences

The program in Illinois has a history of interruptions. The last time benefits were temporarily stopped, funeral homes emptied out while the morgue filled up. There is the possibility that coroners and morgues would once again be overwhelmed with the loved ones of people who are not able to pay for burial services. Funeral directors such as Leak anticipate a rise in cremations as the most affordable choice for people with limited funds. Still, for people who may not be able to afford even the least expensive arrangements, options may be few. The burden of how to care for departed loved ones may yet fall upon local agencies.

Category: Funeral

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