Poors’ burial duty of state

We are in favor of Illinois eliminating expenses. Clearly, a state that is billions of dollars in debt has to begin cutting somewhere.

But turning its back on the indigent dead is an unfortunate place to start.

Earlier this month, local funeral directors received word from the Department of Human Services informing them that the state no longer would assist with the expenses related to burying the indigent this year.

The state had provided about $1,650 in reimbursement per instance to local funeral directors for such burials, and provided this benefit for nearly 12,000 Illinoisans in 2010. According to McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz, the typical burial of this nature bears an expense of between $3,000 and $4,000.

In 2010, the state budgeted $12.6 million to bury those who could not afford a proper burial. This year, Gov. Pat Quinn removed all funding for indigent burials. The Legislature added a scant $1.9 million to the state’s budget. That money is long gone.

In washing their hands of the matter and, in short, requiring local businesses and Illinois’ county governments to pick up the tab to bury those who cannot afford funeral services for the balance of 2011, the Quinn administration is imposing yet another unfunded mandate on local government and further punishing local businesses.

That action is equal parts irresponsible and reprehensible. This now marks the third consecutive year that Illinois’ funding for burial of the indigent has been exhausted prior to the end of a calendar year.

This leaves local funeral homes and the county to incur the expense. Asking a private business to cover this expense is absurd. Tapping overburdened counties is not a solution.

A responsible individual takes care of his or her own. But in extreme circumstances, and for the public well-being, it is the state that must ensure the welfare of its citizenry.

We implore the Legislature to revisit this matter, and do what is necessary to relieve local businesses and county coffers from a responsibility that rightly falls on the state’s shoulders.

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