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Congress Introduces Bill to Protect All Funeral Consumers: Bill Expands Rules to Cover Cemeteries

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Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) is pleased to support The Bereaved Consumer’s Bill of Rights Act of 2009, introduced as HR 3655 by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL). The bill sets national standards for the protection of funeral and cemetery consumers — a goal FCA’s federation of nonprofit consumer education groups has been striving for since the 1970s. The Act will direct the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen and expand the Funeral Rule, which currently applies only to funeral homes, but not cemeteries. The Bill requires the FTC to enact rules that will:

  • Compel cemeteries to give consumers accurate prices before the sale
  • Give cemetery consumers the right to buy only the goods and services they want; families will be able to buy markers, monuments, or grave vaults from less expensive retail vendors rather than being captive to the cemetery’s prices
  • Bar cemeteries from forcing families to buy entire packages of goods or services, if the family wants to choose item by item
  • Require cemeteries to disclose rules and regulations, and consumer rights, before the purchase
  • Require cemeteries to keep accurate records of all burials sold, and where remains are interred, and to make those records available to regulators
  • Bar cemeteries from lying about the law - claiming state laws “require” vaults to surround an in-ground casket, for example

Cremation-only businesses (those that aren't part of a funeral home) that serve the  public directly will also be subject to the price disclosures and consumer rights the Rule currently mandates for funeral homes.  The bill will also require retail monument dealers and casket-sellers to offer accurate price information to consumers and refrain from misrepresenting legal requirements.

“When a friend or relative dies, families are in shock, they’re confused about their options, and they’re vulnerable to misinformation and high-pressure sales pitches,” said FCA executive director Joshua Slocum. “The FTC Funeral Rule has helped correct some of these problems, but only when families are at the funeral home. Rep. Rush’s bill extends those protections through the whole funeral transaction.”

The Bereaved Consumer’s Protection Act grew out of a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on July 27, after the discovery that 300 graves may have been dug up and resold at Chicago’s historic Burr Oak Cemetery. FCA executive director Joshua Slocum testified before lawmakers, urging them to take a broader look at an industry riddled with deceptive practices that take advantage of vulnerable families. While heart-wrenching scandals like Burr Oak grab headlines, he said, many ongoing abuses of funeral and cemetery consumers never make the news and get swept under the rug. FCA offered Congressional staff comments on what provisions the bill should include, and we’re very pleased with the final product.

About FCA: Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., is a nonprofit federation of nearly 100 local organizations that educate the public about sensible funeral planning and stand guard against exploitation of grieving consumers. Founded in 1963, the federation helped push for the successful enactment of the FTC Funeral Rule in 1982, the first national regulations to curb funeral industry abuses. For more information or interviews, contact executive director Joshua Slocum at 802-865-8300, or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated ( Sunday, 01 September 2013 15:26 )
 

Advocacy in Action in Cleveland

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Why join a Funeral Consumers Alliance group? Because you won't find a better source of practical, in-depth, pro-consumer advice on how to choose a funeral that fits your taste and budget  without being scammed. FCA's Cleveland affiliate, the Cleveland Memorial Society (CMS), has produced one of the best newsletters we've ever seen. While it's geared to a local audience, the newsletter is jam-packed with practical advice and incisive commentary on funeral industry practices and consumer empowerment. It includes:

  • The story of how CMS convinced an Amish woodworker to make affordable ($175) wood coffins for members when funeral homes were charging $200 for flimsy cardboard.
  • A cautionary tale about prepaying for your funeral, and all the financial trouble this kind of purchase can bring. Includes an analysis of how state law fails to protect funeral consumers sufficiently, and how buyers can protect themselves.
  • A first-person report on Ohio's first green cemetery - a burial ground that allows natural burial without embalming, metal caskets, and concrete vaults, while keeping the grounds in a natural, beautiful state.
Read the whole newsletter here. If you like what you see, consider joining your local Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Last Updated ( Monday, 05 October 2009 20:02 )
 

Green Burial/Home Funeral Conference

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Boulder-based non-profit, Natural Transitions is hosting a national green and home funeral conference with an impressive line-up of  leading figures in the home and green funeral movement.  Keynote speakers are Billy and Kimberley Campbell of Memorial Ecosystems, of South Carolina, founders of the first green burial preserve in the  US.  Home funeral leaders such as Beth Knox of Crossings and Char Barrett, licensed funeral director with A Sacred Moment, are also among the presenters.  The conference is October 3 in Boulder, Colorado, with a second half day facilitated session for active home funeral educators to work towards the formation of a national alliance to represent those working in the home funeral arena.  More information and registration is available at www.naturaltransitions.org.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:52 )
 

FCA Asks Congress for Federal Rules for Cemeteries

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Funeral Consumers Alliance executive director Josh Slocum testified before a Congressional Subcommittee on July 27, 2009 to ask lawmakers to strengthen federal oversight of cemeteries, set minimum standards for state regulation of cemeteries, and require the responsible deposit of all money American families prepay for their funeral and burial expenses. The hearing in Chicago before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection was sparked by the allegations that hundreds of bodies were dug up (and the graves re-sold) at Chicago's Burr Oak Cemetery.

FCA and its local member organizations nationwide helped enact the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule, the first and only federal protections for grieving consumers. The Rule, passed in 1982, gives families important rights when dealing with funeral homes, but it doesn't cover cemeteries, crematories, and other death-related vendors. For decades, FCA has urged policymakers to extend these protections to cover all aspects of the funeral and burial transaction. But despite numerous scandals involving the mistreatment of the dead over the past decade, nothing has been done. Bills that would have expanded federal oversight of the death industry have gone to an unmarked grave.

We think meaningful reform is now possible. On behalf of FCA's member organizations, our 400,000 individual consumer members, and indeed, on behalf of all Americans who will have to deal with the death services industry, we thank Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush and all the Representatives for taking up this important and often-neglected cause.

We've reproduced our 10-page testimony in a web-friendly format below. We welcome your comments and questions (just leave us a comment in the box at the end of this entry). You can also download a .pdf copy of our testimony here.

Here's a sample of the media coverage of these historic hearings:

Relatives testify at cemetery hearing - ABC7 News (this report has a short clip of Slocum's testimony for FCA)

Burr Oak Cemetery: Congressional leaders to seek federal oversight of cemetery industry - the Chicago Tribune's coverage of the hearings


HOW YOU CAN HELP - Funeral Consumers Alliance is the only national nonprofit dedicated to speaking out for the rights of the dead and the bereaved. We stand up for you to make sure lawmakers understand the needs of grieving families, not just the profit interests of death services lobbyists. But we can't do it without you! Believe it - funeral and cemetery interests have a lot more money, and a lot more lobbyists on the ground than we do.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to FCA to help ensure grieving families have an advocate for their rights. Thank you for your support!

Click the READ MORE button below for our full testimony.

Last Updated ( Friday, 15 January 2010 13:26 ) Read more...
 

New York Times features FCA on funeral planning

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The New York Time's Sarah Arnquist did a great job introducing readers to smart funeral planning in her blog The New Old Age:

Funerals mark a sad turning point in the emotional lives of families and, often, an end to years of caregiving. But they are also a major expense, often undertaken by stricken loved ones ill-prepared to make major financial decisions.

The $11-billion funeral industry makes arrangements for most of the 2.4 million people who die each year in the United States. Many of the deceased have pre-planned their own funerals, but most have not. Planning is particularly difficult if families avoid talking about death beforehand, said Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Read the whole entry here.

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 September 2009 15:24 )
 


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