CHICAGO (AP) __ A drastic cut to an Illinois program that pays for funerals and burials for the poor drew protests Tuesday from a group of Chicago pastors.

Pastors United for Change said the program pays funeral homes and cemeteries when families on public aid can’t afford the cost.

It pays about $1,100 for a funeral and about $500 for a burial.

The Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago predicted “a national embarrassment” if funeral homes are forced to turn away families and bodies pile up “in President Barack
Obama’s home state.”

The Rev. Roosevelt Watkins of Chicago’s Bethlehem Star Church said Gov. Pat Quinn should use discretionary money to help fund the program.

“We think this is outrageous. We think this is unfair,” Watkins said.

The cut is just one of many painful reductions that Illinois residents are finding in the state’s new $32.9 billion budget, which is $2 billion less than the previous one. After criticizing
the cuts that lawmakers made, Quinn signed the budget into law last week with even more reductions.

The new budget slashes money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promises delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduces education spending and cuts money for state employees.

Illinois Department of Human Services spokesman Mike Claffey said the burial program pays for about 12,000 funerals and burials a year. To be eligible, the deceased must have been receiving some
type of public assistance.

Quinn responded Tuesday that he believes everyone deserves a decent funeral and he’ll look at the budget to see what can be done.

Quinn’s budget had proposed cutting the program to zero. The version approved by the House and Senate cut the program to $1.9 million, from $12.6 million in the last fiscal year.

“DHS is looking for ways to manage the funding level and continues to work with the budget office to find additional funding sources to meet the needs of the program,” Claffey said in an
emailed statement.

Quinn, when asked about the program by reporters Tuesday, said he would review the budget to see how much was cut. “It is something I take to heart,” Quinn said. “I think we
want to make sure there is a decent funeral for anyone.”

Copyright Associated Press


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