Not everyone can afford to die.
Locally and across the nation there has been a spike in the number of indigent burials. Every situation is unique, but coroners and funeral home directors tell a similar story. The economic downturn has left many people without the money to pay for funerals and burials, which can cost thousands of dollars, and it’s falling on counties and states to cover the bill.
The cost of a regular adult funeral is about $6,500 according to the National Funeral Directors Association. This includes everything but cemetery plot, opening and closing of grave costs, monument or marker.
Unlike building county roads or sending bad guys to jails, the cost to burying the dead when no one else can usually escapes notice.
The topic has rarely been an item of discussion at commission committee meetings in Carter County because the costs were usually small. And, there are only two or three such burials a year. The Budget Committee has traditionally placed $2,000 a year in a “Pauper Burial” line item, and there has always been money in it at the end of the year.
However, that has changed this year, as the county has already paid for eight such burials and one bill is still outstanding. With four months remaining in the fiscal year, the number is sure to increase. At $600 per burial, allotted funds have been exhausted.
The committee is now exploring possible alternatives to continued county funding for pauper burials, when someone dies without any assets or relatives with the means to pay for a burial or cremation.
There are options. Both East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee are willing to accept bodies for scientific purposes. Also, a Washington County organization, Restore Life USA, provides funeral services at no charge. The organization specializes in providing human tissue and spine specimens for medical research and education.
Even families who don’t qualify for indigent assistance programs are looking to spend less for burial. More are opting for less-expensive options such as cremations.
It’s been said there are only two things that you can depend on: death and taxes. The one is a certainty, and the other nearly so, for most people.
And given a choice, most people would choose to pay their taxes. But with life comes death.
It costs to live, and it costs to die. Every person regardless of their station in life deserves some dignity in death and that includes a decent burial. It doesn’t have to include floral sprays or involve fancy coffins or limousines, but it should include a coffin of some sort and a burial.
When we look at the total cost of burying paupers to be less than $10,000 a year, it’s not a lot to complain about, especially when we in the county fork out $28 million for a new jail for lawbreakers.