BUSINESS

Cities Too Poor To Bury Dead

Dec 01, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

In morgues across the country the corpses of dead poor are stacking up as the the government runs out of money to bury them. State and county budgets for interring indigent and unclaimed bodies have been drying up faster than usual in the current economy, as more families are unable to come up with the money to lay their loved ones to rest.

CNN's Assignment Detroit project released a report Thursday detailing how 67 people lie in wait at the Wayne County morgue. Unemployment, at a staggering 28% in Detroit, prevents many from affording to provide their family members a final resting place, and Detroit's $21,000 annual budget to bury unclaimed bodies ran out three months ago. More bodies are being left to the control of the state, who are having a harder time picking up the slack.

Detroit may be over-exposed as a cite of poverty porn, but stacks of stagnant bodies rotting in city buildings offer a bleak picture of the city's ability to provide for its most vulnerable citizens. Carl Schmidt, Wayne County's chief medical examiner, noted the despair of the condition. "There are many people with sad lives," he said, "But it is even sadder when even after you are dead, there is no one to pick you up."

But it's not just Detroit. In Jefferson County, Alabama, the state has only recently resumed burying the indigent and unclaimed, reports al.com. The county has been unable to afford to pay its employees who handle burials and grave maintenance since August, but some hospitals have started footing the bill until the county can afford to continue their services.

The state of Illinois faced similar fears as its Department of Human Services announced in June that it would be unable to continue paying for burial or funeral services. Budget cuts, reported the State Journal-Register, had shredded the $15 million the state annually puts aside to bury the approximate 10,000 corpses it takes care of. In August, the state rescinded, and approved $12.6 million for those purposes, which affords $1,655 per indigent burial, according to a report by the Southern, much to the delight of cemeteries and funeral homes. Funeral homes still absorb some costs to bury the unclaimed, but the load is much lighter. "It was going to become a big financial burden," said Tony Cox, coroner of Gallatin County.

The state's backup plan -- relying on funeral homes and cemeteries -- was ultimately an appeal to charity; they are not legally bound to provide interment services, said Harvey Lapin, general counsel for the Illinois Cemetery and Funeral Home Association. The state barely avoided that option.

"One way we look back at a culture is how they dispose of their dead," said Schmidt. "We see people here that society was not taking care of before they died -- and society is having difficulty taking care of them after they are dead."