Topeka — A decision to end state funding for a program that helped poor people pay for funerals has left some Kansas counties responsible for more unclaimed bodies, according to some county officials and funeral directors.
The program, administered by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, paid $550 to some families on assistance who needed help to pay for a relative's funeral. The program's annual $520,000 budget was stopped in 2010 and requests to have the money restored were rejected during the last legislative session.
If no one claims a body, the county where the person died is responsible for paying for cremation, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Tuesday.
"I'm sure each county has picked up additional bodies that they are responsible for," said Pam Scott, executive director of the Kansas Funeral Directors Association. "We did ask the Legislature for funds this year, but with the financial condition of the state, we weren't able to procure any funding."
The program helped pay for funerals for 1,194 people in 2009 and 589 people in the first seven months of the 2010 budget year.
Seven bodies, and boxes filled with the cremated remains of seven other people, have gone unclaimed in the Shawnee County Coroner's Office, which often handles cases from other counties.
"We dreaded the SRS change," said Sharon Mandel, chief medical examiner for Shawnee County. "We didn't get hit right off the bat. But now we have several bodies and cremains. It's just a change we have seen throughout the last year. It's a problem across the whole country, not just here."
Three of the bodies came from Shawnee County, one is from Allen County, two are from Douglas County and one is from Cherokee County. One of the two bodies from Douglas County will probably require financial assistance from the county, said Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky. Plinsky said she doesn't believe Douglas County will face this situation more than once or twice per year at an expense of $500 to $700 each time.
Two unclaimed bodies were cremated in January. Investigators work hard to try and find family members or friends, Mandel said.
"We try to get the story on these people the best we can," Mandel said. "Some people will step forward, some people won't."
Often a family simply can't afford a funeral. In other cases, the person who died has a criminal background or is estranged from loved ones.
Shawnee County Coroner Erik Mitchell said his office "definitely has a higher census in the morgue."
"This year, for the first time, we have ended up with a situation where we have been at borderline capacity," he said.