CHICAGO (CBS) — A letter stating that the state of Illinois would no longer pay for burial services for the indigent set off a wave of panic among Illinois social workers, but it turns out the letter was a huge mistake.
The letter sent out last month from the Illinois Department of Human Services said the department would “no longer pay for funerals, burials or cremations for individuals receiving assistance from the state.”
When CBS 2’s Jim Williams started asking about it, state officials said the letter was a mistake.
That mistake forced Joe Linstroth to pull out his credit card to give his friend, Walter Reed, a proper goodbye.
Reed was homeless most of his life, starting when he was only 15.
Linstroth said Reed was “in and out of some nursing homes, but mostly he stayed in shelters and on the street.”
Reed died last week at 77. He had no family; just a friend, Linstroth, his former social worker.
Linstroth said that when Reed died on Friday, he believed that there was not any money available to bury him because of the letter sent out by IDHS.
After getting the letter, many social workers and thousands of family members of indigent Illinois residents wondered how they were going to bury a loved one.
Social worker Judith Wood Mintz said she remembered thinking, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
But late Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said the letter shouldn’t have gone out because the governor didn’t want the program dropped as part of the state’s budget cuts.
It was a communications mistake that forced Linstroth to pay for Reed’s burial expenses out of his own pocket.
“I thought it was the least I could do,” Linstroth said. “I couldn’t let my friend get passed along and kind of dumped in a nameless hole.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Linstroth would be reimbursed for Reed’s burial costs.
The state spends $15 million a year for funerals for 10,000 poor residents. That’s $1500 per death.
David Persons, a worker at Unity Hospice in Chicago, said that money provides for :The most simple casket. No headstone.”
As for why the letter about burial funding went out in the first place, state officials have yet to provide an answer.
Social workers, their clients and others the funeral industry said Wednesday that they believe the program for the poor is dead, based on that letter.
The state’s going to have to do major outreach to those groups to clear the air.