Originally Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2013, 7:31 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 15, 2013, 9:27 pm

Illinois struggles to pay for funerals

Comment on this story

By Michael Billy, Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — When destitute people die in Illinois, the state often pays for their funeral and burial expenses.

But even that basic function is being undermined by the state's fiscal crisis.

Funeral home and cemetery owners perform indigent funerals and burials before the state pays a dime — and they often complain of being paid many months late.

And this is happening despite the fact that state government is collecting more revenue now than at any time in its history.

The late payments are another symptom of the state's overall financial crisis, said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, who is a funeral director at Kibler-Brady-Ruestman Memorial Home.

"When a business provides a service and they aren't paid, the state is essentially using them as a bank loan," he said. "As small businesses, this makes it more difficult to stay in business."

And that's not right, say funeral home owners across Illinois.

"It's common for the state to be late on these payments," said Bruce Schreffler, owner of Schreffler Funeral Home in Kankakee. "It usually takes nine months to a year for them to pay."

The program, which is overseen by the Department of Human Services, pays a maximum of $1,103 for funerals and $552 for burial costs.

"We believe that everyone deserves a proper funeral," DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith said. "But that's a big expense at the end of life. For someone who doesn't have assets or an insurance policy it's rough."

Steve Pressly, who owns Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home in Rock Island, said most of the clients who come in through the DHS program are elderly people who live in nursing homes or low-income people without insurance.

Not being paid promptly makes it more difficult to accept people through the state's program, he said.

"It makes you less willing to accept any kind of public aid clients when you know you aren't going to be reimbursed or will be paid late," he said. "You'd be more willing to do it if you were paid in a timely manner."

Pressly said the state owes him on accounts five months past due.

John Roetker, owner of Gladfelter Funeral Home in Ottawa, said the late payments are a "widespread" problem."It creates a hardship. It makes it more difficult for us to pay our bills to our vendors on time."

Roetker said the details of the funeral are up to the family and the funeral home, but that it usually covers the cost of a minimal casket and a short viewing before the burial or cremation.

State Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, said the late payments are evidence of a systemic problem in Springfield.

"We are paying everyone late, and it's unacceptable," he said. "It's not just with burying indigent people. It's happening to everyone."