Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 9, 2014

Local funeral homes: Indigent burials will proceed despite West Virginia’s exhausted fund

PRINCETON — Area funeral services plan to continue burials for indigent people despite the fact West Virginia’s program for such funerals will not be able to pay them until the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

West Virginia’s program for funding indigent burials has exhausted its funds. New funding will not be available until the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The $2.28 million program was reduced by $50,000 this fiscal year due to cuts in the state’s budget. This is the second year the program’s funds have run out, said Sen. Bill Cole (R-Mercer).

Area funeral home directors said they would continue to handle indigent services and try to bill the state later.

“They’ve never been quick to pay their bills and about this time every year they run out of money, and you go ahead and bury them, and just hold the bill,” said Jim Sly, manager and owner of Fanning Funeral Service in McDowell County.

Sly also said this is not the first time the state’s indigent burial program has exhausted its funds.

“Not hardly! About this time every year, they run out of money,” he said. “This is nothing uncommon. Usually, we don’t know it.”

Sly said his funeral service might get “one or two” indigent burials to perform while waiting for the state program to get new funds. “It’s unfair to make us sit and wait,” he said.

Meanwhile, the families that cannot afford to pay for a funeral need assistance.

“They’re a victim of circumstance, most of them,” Sly said. “You just do what you can do and go on.”

The state pays funeral homes approximately $1,200 for a service.

“That’s all you can charge when you do a welfare burial,” he stated.

Charlie Mathena of the Memorial Funeral Directory near Princeton said his service would also continue to serve indigent families.

“Why sure,” Mathena said. “Yes. I don’t think any funeral home is going to turn any needs down. We certainly won’t. We’ve kind of grown accustomed to this.”

After the funds are gone for the year, funeral homes continue performing indigent services and bill the state when the next fiscal year arrives, Mathena said. The number of indigent burials a funeral home might do fluctuates from year to year. This number has grown during the last four to five years. The Memorial Funeral Directory now performs approximately 40 of these services a year. The state allows funeral homes to charge up to $1,250 a service, and families can add $1,200 for a total of $2,450.

“God’s blessed us, and we just keep doing what we do,” Mathena stated.

The situation with the program is different this year, said Bill Seaver of the Seaver Funeral Service.

“Here’s what is different about this year,” Seaver said. “In other years, we could send the individuals in need with the application down to the DHHR (Department of Health and Human Services), and they would send them to Charleston, who would reject them and send them back to us, the funeral homes, telling us we could file a claim against the quick claims court.”

“We submitted them and eventually got paid,” Seaver said. “What’s different this year, they’re not accepting applications and there is no recourse available. That’s my understanding.”

In a letter dated April 29, Commissioner Nancy N. Exline with the DHHR Bureau for Children and Families said the funds for the Indigent Burial Program had been exhausted, and no applications would be accepted effective immediately. Funeral home directors were to be instructed that they would be required to pursue unpaid obligations through the West Virginia Court of Claims process.

“When the program reopens, only applications for individuals who become deceased on or after July 1, 2014 will be accepted,” according to the letter.

Expenses do not end with a funeral service, Seaver said. A burial plot can cost $2,800. Families that cannot afford a plot may have to consider cremation.

Seaver said his service was still filling out the necessary applications, and will likely make a plea for payment in the state’s court of claims.

“We’re just having to absorb this for people, and most of us are willing to do it because people can’t help their circumstances sometimes,” Seaver stated. “We just have to do the best we can.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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