Sen. Bob McCaslin is a legendary tightwad in the Legislature. But he has introduced a bill this session to make counties pay for burial of the poor in some cases.
Under county policy, taxpayers pick up the tab only if the body is unclaimed. That’s what McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, wants to change.
McCaslin decided to introduce the bill last year when an indigent family was told it could get help burying its baby only if the family disowned it.
“If we can find $200,000 to pay for the freeholders, we can bury a baby,” McCaslin said.
“Right now we have people in a corner. They can get help only if they disown the body. If you claim it, you’re in trouble. That’s not what government should be about.”
The state used to pick up the tab for burying indigents. But it backed out of the responsibility in 1993 when state spending cuts were made to balance the budget.
McCaslin’s bill is silent on how counties would determine who is eligible, leaving it for local jurisdictions to decide. It simply states that counties will be responsible for the disposition of the remains of indigent people.
McCaslin said he intends for the bill to provide only the cheapest available service. Poor people would not be allowed to choose burial over cremation or enhancements to the basic service.
Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris said the bill makes sense to him.
“If somebody claims a body and says there’s no way possible for them to bury this person, well, I guess somebody’s got to pay for it. You can’t let it just sit there.
“How could I say no to that?”
Spokane County Coroner Dexter Amend said he doesn’t mind the bill as long as it doesn’t require help for people who are on welfare.
“If they are on welfare, they are already getting money from the taxpayers,” Amend said.
But funeral directors oppose the bill, according to Lola Franklin, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association in Bellevue.
Funeral directors fear they’ll get stuck with government requirements which will drive up the cost of the service they have to provide. And if the money counties pay doesn’t cover the full cost of the service, funeral directors would have to absorb the difference, Franklin said.
“Families can get what they need now,” Franklin said. “There are all kinds of credit arrangements, installment plans and deep discounts. Funeral directors make every effort to help.”
The Washington Association of Counties hasn’t taken a position on the bill.