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General assistance burial policy reviewed by county

November 1, 2018

MADISON — The Madison County commissioners approved some policy changes on Tuesday that should help funeral homes recover more of their costs when families cannot afford to pay for funerals of loved ones.

During a public hearing to consider the changes to general assistance provided by the county for indigent persons, Kathy Nordby, director of Norfolk’s Midtown Health Center, shared some recommendations researching how some area counties handle the situation.

Madison County contracts with Midtown Health Center for determining general assistance and need.

Nordby said that unless there are religious reasons involved, the county opts for cremation of bodies over burials.

The county also does have the right to pursue costs from the deceased’s estate.

The guidelines that were approved Tuesday increase the payment for cremation from $1,200 to $2,200. Burial costs will increase from $2,000 to $3,200.

For a burial, the funeral home must provide some basic services, such as grave opening, vault delivery and installation, casket and other expenses.

County officials estimated that general assistance occurs about 10 to 15 times a year, but it has been increasing in recent years.

Nordby said other counties also are seeing an increase in general assistance funerals as newer generations aren’t taking on the responsibility like previous ones did.

The county last raised rates to reimburse funeral homes at least 10 years ago. It was considered again in 2014 with a public hearing, but no action ended up being taken.

There was a meeting recently with morticians to gain their input. One mortician attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Nordby said the person requesting assistance is usually notified of the cremation policy. Unless there is a demonstrated history that the person had practiced a religion opposed to it, the body will be cremated.

If the family is insisting on burial, the family must then pay for the funeral. Some counties only will pay for cremation, she said.

The county also has the option that if the deceased has money left in a bank account, the county can go and collect it to go toward the costs of the funeral.

In general, the county will work with the next of kin in determining which funeral home will handle arrangements. If there is no next of kin, it is up to the county coroner to determine which funeral home will handle the arrangements.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the increased fees paid to the county for both cremations and burials.