Monday, October 12, 2009

The Vortex...

Greetings good citizen,

While I gave my self the night off last night, I couldn’t pass up this latest Sign of the times story from today’s NY Times.

I’ve never seen the likes of a story such as this one and it’s not difficult to imagine it happening before on a ‘here and there’ basis, like whole schools systems ceasing operations during the Great Depression.

If things got that bad back then it means this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the topic of tonight’s offering…

Indigent Burials Are on the Rise

Published: October 10, 2009

Coroners and medical examiners across the country are reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families cannot. [Consider if you will what kind of reflection this mirror provides us with regarding the sorry state of today’s society? How low have we sunk when the poor cannot afford to bury their dead?]

The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to help cover the costs of burials or cremations.

Oregon, for example, has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of unclaimed bodies over the past few years, the majority left by families who say they cannot afford services. “There are more people in our cooler for a longer period of time,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state’s medical examiner. “It’s not that we’re not finding families, but that the families are having a harder time coming up with funds to cover burial or cremation costs.” [Part of me wonders if the problem isn’t being made worse by the overall ‘unaffordability’ of life in general. The cost to insure the average individual against all the ‘perils’ life throws at us has squeezed basic income so hard that most people no longer buy either life or health insurance…it has become a luxury they can’t afford. Now with ‘mandated’ health insurance, fewer will have the extra funds to purchase even a rudimentary life insurance policy. Is the ‘solution’ to mandate that protection as well? What are people to eat if they must spend all of their income for ‘mandated minimums’ of health care that provides no service and life insurance that isn’t enough to bury you with?]

About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies, including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that has grown along with Medicaid rolls.

Financing in Oregon comes from fees paid to register the deaths with the state. The state legislature in June voted to raise the filing fee for death certificates to $20 from $7, to help offset the increased costs of state cremations, which cost $450.

“I’ve been here for 24 years, and I can’t remember something like this happening before,” Dr. Gunson said.

Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people since the end of January, said Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn tried to end the state’s indigent burial program this year, shifting the financing to counties and funeral homes, but the state eventually found $12 million to continue the program when funeral directors balked. [Bizarrely, this is yet another example of privatized profits and publicized losses…before anybody objects, let’s ask why people don’t have either cash savings or some minimal form of life insurance? Could it be because employers don’t pay these people enough (or worse, they can’t provide these people with jobs at all?) In most cases you can’t pay for insurance and eat too!]

The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city, county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face down wide budget gaps.

Boone County, Mo., hit its $3,000 burial budget cap last month, and took $1,500 out of a reserve fund to cover the rest of the year. While the sum is relatively low, it comes as the county is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, tax collections are down 5 percent and the number of residents needing help is expected to grow.

“We’ve had a significant increase in unemployment, wages are dropping, industrial manufacturing jobs go away and companies scaled back or even closed their doors,” said Skip Elkin, the county commissioner. “But we feel an obligation to help families who don’t have any assets.” [Um, it is downright ‘neighborly’ of the county to step up to the plate like this but it ignores who is causing this problem; and only a conservative will point at the victims from the three quarters of the way closed window in the back of their limousines. How come their ass is being carted around like royalty when the people who made them wealthy can’t afford to give their dead a decent funeral? Now whose fault is it? It’s not like the money wasn’t there all along now was it?]

The medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich., Dr. Carl Schmidt, bought a refrigerated truck after the morgue ran out of space. The truck, which holds 35 bodies, is currently full, Dr. Schmidt said. “We’ll buy another truck if we have to,” he said. [One would think leasing such a short term solution would be more practical or simply putting them in the ground…ashes don’t need to be refrigerated and if you’re going to bury the body anyway…why fool around and add unnecessary expense?]

Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial.

Clyde Gibbs, the chief medical examiner in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the office typically averaged 25 to 30 unclaimed bodies each year. At the end of the 2008 fiscal year there were at least 60, Dr. Gibbs said. The office cremates about three-quarters of the remains, and scatters the ashes at sea every few years. [Are we to guess this is done out of the goodness of someone’s heart…which is why the ashes are left to accumulate for a period of years? Suppose you wished to reclaim the remains of your loved one…would the remains be ‘held hostage’ until you paid the fee? This is pretty ticklish stuff we’re dancing with here…]

In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners’ offices donate unclaimed remains to the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the “Body Farm,” where students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility had to briefly halt donations because it had received so many this year, said its spokesman, Jay Mayfield. [Well, imagine that, so many ‘donated’ bodies they had to halt donations! Again, what do you suppose the ‘root cause’ of such a bizarre epidemic is due to, poverty or excessive greed?]

The increase in indigent burials and cremations is also taking a toll on funeral homes, which are losing money as more people choose cremation over burial. In 2003, 29.5 percent of remains were cremated; by 2008 the number had grown to 36 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and it is expected to soar to 46 percent by 2015, according to the association’s projection of current trends. [Is this sudden ‘shift’ towards cremation evidence of a new frugality, born of austerity brought on by tight fisted employers…or are we seeing a shift towards practicality where land isn’t ‘wasted’ just to provide a parking space for a corpse…]

Don Catchen, owner of Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes in Elsmere, Ky., who handles cremations of the poor in Kenton County, said the $831 county reimbursement for cremations was “just enough to cover the cost of what I do — I donate my time.”

In Florida, where counties switched to cremation a few years ago to save on costs, Prudencio Vallejo, general manager of the Unclaimed Bodies Unit of the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said cremations were $425, compared with $1,500 for a burial. They have risen about 10 percent this year, Mr. Vallejo said.

“Most people, the first thing that they say is ‘We wouldn’t be coming to you if we could afford to do it ourselves,’ ” he said.

Broward County, Fla., paid for the cremation of Renata Richardson’s daughter, Jazmyn Rose, who was born stillborn on Sept. 25, 2008. Ms. Richardson, 26, lost her job at an advertising agency in July and could not afford to pay.

The county spent about $1,000 on a cremation and pink urn, engraved with the baby’s birth and death date, and a Bible passage. It now sits in the bassinette where she was to sleep.

“I was strapped for cash, I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what they were going to do with her,” Ms. Richardson, of Davie, Fla., said. “I was honored that they went that far to help me.”

Uh, this is one bizarre little tidbit here good citizen, makes you wonder if this is another one of those ‘green shoots’ we keep hearing about. Which is to say the local governments are stepping up to the plate and paying to have the remains disposed of rather than just letting them, er, stack up until ‘somebody’ coughs up the money to take care of the situation.

No irony should be lost on the fact of just who is footing the tab for these services, it’s you, the taxpayer.

Um, make no mistake about it good citizen, the article practically screams that the government is doing everything it can with the limited resources it has to work with.

I’m sure you noticed that nowhere in this article was the ‘source’ of this backlog of people unable to pay for the final arrangements of their loved ones even mentioned. It was left to appear that this um, burden, being ‘unfairly placed’ on the state is the fault of the people who are too destitute (and by extension too irresponsible) to ‘plan ahead’ for this, er, inevitable outcome.

Okay, that’s sad enough, but to have entire families incapable of burying a loved one? Um, are the destitute a much larger segment of the population than we’ve been lead to believe?

Short answer…yes.

I can’t speak for anyone else but I think this article epitomizes the savagery our society has sunk too.

Thanks for letting me inside your head,


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