Burial bailouts: Even the dead need a hand

While feelings are mixed on whether or not the U.S. is recovering or still at risk are mixed, at least we can be reassured by the reliability of death and taxes. The latter, of course, is being made more certain by IRS efforts to catch tax-dodgers, while the former needs no help. Unfortunately, the inevitable demise that everyone faces is putting an ever-increasing strain on the deceased -- or, at least, on their survivors.

The number of people asking the government to pay for burials, cremations and funerals is surging. Counties and states are, increasingly, being left to foot the bill for people who can't afford this last trapping of life on their own. At a cost of $7,000 or more for a funeral, it isn't hard to see how changing priorities in a tough economic environment – let alone the brute availability of cash – would drive more estate executors into the arms of municipalities.

Los Angeles County has taken care of the final arrangements for 404 indigent deaths during the first six months of 2009. This is a 97 percent jump from the 205 with which it dealt in the last six months of 2007. Despite a constrained budget, the county needs to find $12,000 a month simply to put people in the ground. The county crematory couldn't offer much help, as it has enough natural deaths to keep it busy. It doesn't have room for the accidental deaths, homicides and unidentified corpses that the coroner would send over.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas has seen indigent cremations rise 22 percent since budget-year 2008 (which ended on June 30, 2008). That year, Clark County had 741 indigent deaths. For the budget-year ending in June 2009, there were 904 deaths for the county to address. And, in Kenton County, KY, the 29 indigent burials by mid-August are far ahead of the dozen that it had in 2008.

We've heard the expression "too big to fail" bandied about for the past year, but how about "too poor to die"?

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