By Sarah Ostman
Illinois has no more money for the funerals and burials of poor people reliant on public aid, state officials say.
But deceased indigents must be buried somehow, and it appears the burden will fall to local government, though in Cook County, the office charged with those burials appears woefully underfunded for the task.
Cook County has a budget of just $60,000 to bury its indigent dead, a task that cost the state $7 million last year in Cook County alone.
Until July 1, the Illinois Dept. of Human Services had a budget of $12.6 million for indigent burials. The fund paid about $1,650 per deceased person – $1,103 for a funeral and $552 for a burial – to be handled by a private funeral home, which would later be reimbursed. Last year, about 12,000 such cases were funded statewide.
But facing a budget crisis, Gov. Pat Quinn last month signed a new state budget that slashed the fund to $1.9 million. The move sparked protests from pastors, including Pastor Ira J. Acree of Austin’s Greater St. John Bible Church.
“This continues the diabolical war against the poor … Everyone deserves to have their dignity, privacy and respect,” Acree told AustinTalks. “And what are you going to do with the bodies?”
One-and-a-half months later, the $1.9 million allocated statewide for the current fiscal year – which runs July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012 – has already run out, said Januari Smith Trader, spokeswoman for the state’s human services department.
“The bottom line here is the General Assembly did not appropriate adequate funding to sustain this program for a full year,” Smith Trader said.
When the initial cuts were made, Quinn responded to protests by saying he would scour the budget for a way to reinstate the funding.
But so far, there’s no indication that’s happened.
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