Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 14, 2014

Indigent burial funds coming

PRINCETON — A West Virginia program created to help indigent families lay their loved ones to rest is now scheduled to be funded again, but area funeral homes will have to wait until they are paid for their services.

In June, the state’s program for funding indigent burials had run out of money. The $2.28 million program had lost $50,000 in the last fiscal year due to state budget cuts. Funding was not to be restored until the new fiscal year began on July 1.

Jason Crowder, who works for Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said he checked with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, handling the indigent burial program,  and was told funding would be available again.

“It’s my understanding that they do,” he said. “They wait until the funding comes in and they pay what is owed to the funeral services.”

When the program ran out money last June, funeral home directors in southern West Virginia said that was not the first time they had to wait to be paid for performing indigent burials.

Jim Sly, manager and owner of Fanning Funeral Service in McDowell County, said the program usually runs out of money in June. Funeral homes continue performing the indigent services and hold the bills.

Sly said Thursday that he had not yet received any notices from the state about the program resuming.

“I haven’t’ heard of anything,” he said. “That’s not good.”

When asked if his service would continue indigent burials, Sly said they would continue.

“Well, we’ll have to do it. That’s not the good part, but we have to.”

This year the situation was different, said Bill Seaver of the Seaver Funeral Service.  In previous years, individuals in need could go to the DHHR. The department would send their applications to Charleston. When the applications were rejected, the people would be sent back to the funeral homes. The funeral homes would be told to file claims in quick claims court. Funeral homes would eventually be paid.

 This year new applications were not accepted and no recourse was available, Seaver said.

In a letter dated April 29, Commissioner Nancy N. Exline, with the DHHR Bureau for Children and Families, stated 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.

Seaver said he has sent all his service’s claims into the court of small claims, but he was not sure if they would be paid.

“They’re very generous with having this program,” Seaver said. “It’s a great help to a lot of these people. I don’t know what they would do otherwise. I really appreciate it, to tell the truth.”

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