News and Blogs

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 )
 

Oregon Exempts Self from First Amendment

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4/20/2009 - Reads like a headline from The Onion, doesn't it? Senate Bill 796, a bill that purports to better regulate the changing funeral industry, contains a remarkable provision:

“An individual may not practice as a death care consultant unless the individual is licensed as a death care consultant under section 4 of this 2009 Act. Regardless of any title used by the individual, an individual practices as a death care consultant if the individual offers, for payment, consultations or workshops to individuals or groups regarding funeral or final disposition services.”

Plain English ™ Translation - Consumer advocates, home funeral guides, or anyone else has to pass a test and get a license from the state before charging even a dollar to give a workshop on anything to do with funerals or funeral planning. And what creeping menace will this protect the funeral-buying public from? Private citizens (mostly women, some known as death midwives, others as home funeral guides or consultants) who teach people practical, common-sense ways to take on the final care of a dead relative in the home, by the family, mortuary-free. Yes, it's perfectly legal to do so, though we suspect there are some in the commercial funeral business that dearly wish it weren't.

The bill was introduced by Oregon Senator Vicki Walker. Here's FCA's letter opposing the unconstitutional provisions of SB 796. If you care about free speech and the right to free choice in funerals, contact your Oregon legislator. And if you appreciate what FCA does as the only nonprofit consumer watchdog on these issues, please consider supporting us. Without your donations, we wouldn't be here.

6/7/2009 UPDATE - We've been told by several people who've attended committee meetings in the Oregon House (yep, the bill made it through the Senate, astonishingly) that Senator Walker has amended it to read:

“An individual may not practice as a death care consultant unless the individual is licensed as a death care consultant under section 4 of this 2009 Act. Regardless of any title used by the individual, an individual practices as a death care consultant if the individual offers, for payment, consultations regarding funeral or final disposition services.”

We can't confirm this, since neither Senator Walker, nor more than a dozen of her colleagues have bothered to respond to our letters and emails. The amendment solves nothing, of course - it merely makes the wording vaguer, and thus more alarming. And it will not stave off likely legal challenges on First Amendment grounds.

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

One in Four Funeral Homes Breaking the Law - FTC

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3/30/2009 - The Federal Trade Commission issued a press release about its 2008 "sweeps," undercover shopping trips to see if mortuaries are complying with the Funeral Rule. The Rule, in place since 1984, requires funeral homes to give consumers printed, itemized price lists and disclosures at the very beginning of any funeral arrangments discussion. Sounds pretty simple, right? So then why did 26 of the 104 funeral homes secret-shopped last year not do it?

Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 July 2009 16:23 ) Read more...
 

Where Death Comes Cheap - Newsweek Interviews FCA

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Check out the March 16, 2009 Newsweek Magazine story on families looking for a dignified send-off that won't bury them in debt. Writer Matthew Phillips does a great job laying-out simpler, cheaper ways to get to the great beyond.

Last Updated ( Friday, 01 May 2009 13:32 ) Read more...
 


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