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Funeral Homes Foot Bill for Poor

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CEDAR RAPIDS - When the poor die, someone has to pay for the funeral. In Iowa, families can apply for assistance through their counties. But often, funeral homes are expected to make up the difference, something that's digging these businesses into debt, especially in Linn County.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is a difficult time in the life of any family. Peter Teahen of Teahen Funeral Home says it's especially hard for him, when the family can't afford the funeral.

He says, "There is always this assumption that there is a county burial and really, it's non-existent."

Linn County pays $775 to Teahen every time he has an indigent funeral. But that number doesn't go far when the least expensive service costs $2,500.

Teahen says, "It could cost the funeral home $1000, $2000 out of their pocket for every welfare funeral."

Other funeral homes say the lack of funds most always forces them to take the cheapest route.

Michael Papich at Papich-Kuba Funeral Home says, "If they're not against the idea of it, that they go with a cremation rather than a funeral with a visitation."

Every surrounding county pays more from $1,000 in Jones to $2,500 in Iowa. Last year, Linn County had 29 indigent funerals. That means, with a budget of $40,000 for the program, the county only spent a little more than half of the money available.

The county's general assistance office says, three years ago, it dropped the amount funeral homes received to $775 because of budget issues. Funeral directors fought back, but county officials say they never followed through.

General Assistance Director Linda Homan says, "They never did make anything in formal writing as to what they wanted in the policy."

Homan says funeral homes can still submit a new policy for review. But Teahen says the county should just pay out the unspent money already budgeted for this service.

He asks, "Or do we just kind of say 'it's the dead' and throw our hands up in the air and say 'it's not our problem?'"

Dealing with death is difficult enough. Teahen says this might help ease funeral homes' financial struggles and customers' suffering at the same time.

So far, funeral directors in Linn County have not re-organized to get the rule changed. But funeral directors in Henry County have asked their supervisors for an increase in their burial reimbursements. For the past 20 years, Henry County paid $1,200 for an indigent funeral. Now funeral directors want $2,000. Supervisors there are optimistic that the increase will come through in the near future.

Email Josh Hinkle at

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