Press-Republican

December 2, 2013

Funding burials for the poor weighed

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County, with input from invited funeral-home directors, will balance and revise how much it will pay for burials of its poorest residents.

Social Services Commissioner Lesley Lyon said that not only are costs increasing, but there is no language in the agency’s indigent-burial policy that states how much the county will pay for cremation.

“There is a disparity with funeral homes billing for a different amount,” she said.

Some charge $1,800 and others $2,175. 

REIMBURSEMENT VS. COST

Franklin County taxpayers paid for 76 indigent burials in 2012, and all but two of them had a portion of the expense reimbursed by the state.

The maximum reimbursement rate, which has not been increased for a number of years, is 21 percent of the total cost up to $900.

But Lyon said that when a funeral costs between $3,000 and $4,000, the county is getting just $265 back and absorbing the rest.

NEARBY COUNTIES

Lyon said she compared indigent-burial costs in four neighboring counties and found that Franklin County falls in the middle.

The Press-Republican checked with Social Services personnel and found that Clinton County pays $2,175 for a basic indigent burial and paid for 100 individuals in 2012. It was reimbursed $261 for each one.

Essex County property owners paid between $1,200 and $3,000 for basic indigent burials and funded 40 of them in 2012.

The state reimbursement was $450 each, Social Services personnel told the Press-Republican.

SAVINGS EYED

Lyon said surviving children of an indigent person are not responsible for paying their parents’ bills, but she believes that with a few changes to the existing policy, the county could save between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

“This involves funeral directors and is such a sensitive subject, and it costs money for them, and they are local businesses so we don’t want to go with a blanket proposal to save $50,000,” Lyon said.

“We’re not sure how you wanted to handle it.”

She suggested forming a small committee of a few funeral directors, Social Services staff and a legislator or two to discuss the issue and find policy language and costs everyone accepts.

CREMATION

The discussion will include cremation costs, which were mentioned in the county’s policy but not fully explained, said Janelle Reome, director of financial services for Social Services.

She said the flat cost for burial or cremation was established in 2009 at $1,850, but some funeral homes are billing for $2,175, which is the maximum the county pays for direct indigent burials.

WHAT IS COVERED

Indigent burial costs include the casket, embalming, funeral services, use of a hearse and mileage reimbursement.

Some funeral homes include burial of the cremation ashes as part of their bill while others have an added fee for it. Some pay for music and clergy, but others don’t.

“It’s very vague, so it’s a county decision,” Lyon said, adding that the county is responsible for disposing of a body in an acceptable way but not with all the other available services a funeral home could provide.

She asked the county to create a small committee that includes invited funeral directors from each end of the county to work out the details.

“Everybody wants to do the right thing, but it’s getting expensive,” she said.

“But we want to make it fair for taxpayers.”

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com