- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Funeral directors say the current stalemate over Illinois’ budget has meant more stress for low-income families who have lost loved ones.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (https://bit.ly/248fbr9 ) reports that suspension of the state’s funeral and burial assistance program means more low-income families cremate their dead or hold more meager funerals. According to funeral officials, more families of indigent individuals are also leaving their loved ones’ remains unclaimed at county morgues.

“You have a lot of unemployment. You have a lot of people who need assistance, and it’s not there,” said James Gilkesson, a funeral director at Simons Mortuary in Peoria.

The Illinois Department of Human Services says roughly 6,600 families were served by the assistance program in 2014. The program had cost the state between $6.4 million to $9 million annually.

Chris Butler, president of Butler Funeral Homes and Cremation Tribute Center in Springfield, said prices would often be cut drastically by funeral homes for families of those who qualified for the state aid. He said the program was helpful in stretching families’ money and providing them greater satisfaction with services and products.

“There is a basic desire to have some sort of farewell,” Butler said.

Fewer than half of states have statewide assistance programs for indigent funeral and burial expenses, but Illinois is the only statewide program not operating because of budget disagreements, according to Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin-based National Funeral Directors Association.

In 2015, Rauner suspended payments to vendors in the program for several months when he also suspended funding for other human-service programs. The governor then reinstated the funeral and burial payments, along with funding for human-service programs, through the end of fiscal 2015.

“Due to the Democratic majority’s failure to pass a balanced budget, no payments have been made since July 1, 2015,” said Marianne Manko, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services. The department is under Rauner’s control.

The funeral and burial program wasn’t funded in Rauner’s proposed budgets for fiscal 2016 or 2017 “in order to preserve core services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” Manko said.

Rauner and legislative Democrats are still at an impasse over a state budget for the fiscal year that started in July. A fiscal year 2016 budget passed by Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate and vetoed by Rauner included funding for the funeral and burial program.

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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