State budget impasse left uncertainty about the program, which is currently funded and able to provide reimbursements through the Department of Human Services
CHICAGO — Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza is urging the Illinois Department of Human Services to ensure that county coroners, funeral directors and cemeteries are aware that there are state reimbursements available to help cover the costs of funerals and burial for those in Illinois who cannot afford these services.
The move comes after the Associated Press reported that Adams County Coroner
James Keller is refusing to release remains and death certificates to families who cannot afford to pay for a funeral and burial.
“Holding the remains of people’s loved ones for ransom is unthinkable. Everyone deserves a respectful burial. Being poor is not a crime, but disrespecting grieving families the way Coroner
Keller is should be,” said Comptroller Mendoza. “This disgusting behavior by Coroner Keller isn’t reflective of who we are as a state.”
The two-year budget impasse has left county officials and funeral directors feeling as though they cannot count on the indigent funeral and burial program. No state money was spent on the program for Fiscal Year 2016. In FY 17, only $2.1 million of the $8.8 million appropriation was expended. This lack of state support created an environment that allowed for Keller’s gross abuse of power.
The AP story reveals a sad reality that many coroners, funeral directors and family members of the indigent are not aware of existing funding administered by DHS. There is a $9.3 million appropriation in the current fiscal year for the program, but only $1.5 million has been expended to date. The Comptroller’s office pays these reimbursements within a few days of receiving the vouchers for them from DHS. In fact, the office is currently prioritizing payment of all vouchers from DHS.
“We are urging the Rauner administration to do more to let county officials and funeral directors know that this money is set aside at the state level, so the costs aren’t pushed onto local taxpayers and businesses, and families aren’t faced with added stress in a time of mourning,” Comptroller Mendoza said. “Through my office’s role working with cemeteries and funeral homes in a regulatory capacity, we have confirmed that many in the industry are not aware that these funds are available.”
In an effort to increase awareness of the program, the Comptroller’s office will inform funeral directors and burial entities in the Office’s regulatory listing that funding is available for the program in the current year and provide them with the appropriate contact information at DHS.
“When DHS receives these reimbursement applications, they should process them as quickly as possible and send the vouchers to my office for payment. If there are any outstanding applications, I would ask the department to expedite them. Doing so will allow us to bring relief to the funeral homes, that have been shouldering the cost of the state’s financial dysfunction, and lift some of this unnecessary burden on grieving families,” Comptroller Mendoza said.
You can download the PDF version of this release here.