Funeral homes seek help to pay for burials of poor people

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 5:31 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Many area funeral homes are paying out of pocket to pay for burials for those who can’t. Now they’re hoping the county can help.

When an indigent person dies - someone who can’t afford their own funeral - Jefferson County will pay $1,900 to cover a basic casket and other bare minimum needs.

“That’s just on a merchandise scale. If you added up how much we’re actually paying out of pocket, it would include removal, there’s a cost for that. Cosmetics, embalming. Use of our vehicles, use of our funeral home,” said Jason Harrington with the Jefferson-Lewis County Funeral Directors Association.

Add up an indigent person’s burial, one without services, and it’ll easily cost $5,000. With the county kicking in $1,900, the funeral home is out the other $3,100.

It’s a costly problem that’s on the rise.

According to the county, there were 108 indigent burials in 2020. In 2022, there were 137. That’s a more than 25 percent increase in two years.

“We’ve had several that were homeless individuals, drug-related, that basically have no residence, no income, no address,” said William Stoodley, president of Reed & Benoit, Carpenter Stoodley Funeral Homes.

Harrington will stand before the Jefferson County Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday night with hopes of getting more of the costs covered.

“From our initial raise in 2011, I implemented an astoundingly reasonable 2 percent increase every year to the current time. That would bring us to $511 over and above what the county is currently paying us,” he said.

If that request is granted, the county would pitch in a total of $2,400. Stoodley says despite the cost, he would never turn anyone down from having proper services.

“A majority of us, and I would say all of us in this area, run our businesses with our heart. We don’t tell people just because they can’t afford something, doesn’t mean it isn’t available to them,” he said.

County Administrator Bob Hagemann says the county does get reimbursed for this cost from New York state, but the most the state will pay is $900.