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Why Illinois Can't Afford its Poor Dead

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Why Illinois Can't Afford its Poor Dead
Why Illinois Can't Afford its Poor Dead

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The state of Illinois has reached a new level of broke. Come Monday, it won't have enough cash to bury its indigent dead.

Illinois officials sent a letter to more than 600 funeral directors around the state to let them know there's no money for funerals for individuals on public assistance.

"We got that letter," said Jonathon Szykowny, owner and director of Szykowny Funeral Home. "I'm extremely upset by it. ... I would be very concerned that during extreme economic times that  some families can't provide the necessary funds to bury their loved ones. Sometimes God doesn't call during the best economic times and families can't afford to pay for a funeral and need help"

In the past, the state has reserved about $13 million to help pay for an estimated 12,000 funerals for individuals who relied on public aid. Participating funeral homes were alloted $1,100 for funerals and $552 for the burial.

The 2011 budget, however, accounts for just $1.9 million.

The Illinois Department of Human Services letter said it can only guarantee payments for pauper funerals through August 15.

Funeral directors have been advised to look for money from city or county governments, and to advise families in morgues until funding can be secured.

"Now the only viable option --- I don't mean to make light of it -- is to leave the body at the medical examiner office,"  Szykowny said. "After 60 to 90 days they'll take the body to what's called a potter's field and bury it in a numbered grave."

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