County pauper burial costs draw second committee’s attention

10:00 am | March 5, 2013

The growing number of pauper burials drew the attention of a second Carter County committee Monday, with Commissioner Ken Arney telling members of another committee that “This thing is getting out of hand.”

Photo by Danny DavisCommissioner Ken Arney asks the county's Health and Welfare Committee to allow members of Restore Life USA to discuss alternatives to the county's current pauper burial process. Restore Life USA, a non-profit that operates out of Johnson City, specializes in organ and tissue donation.

Photo by Danny Davis
Commissioner Ken Arney asks the county’s Health and Welfare Committee to allow members of Restore Life USA to discuss alternatives to the county’s current pauper burial process. Restore Life USA, a non-profit that operates out of Johnson City, specializes in organ and tissue donation.

During last month’s meeting of the county’s Budget Committee, commissioners discussed the county’s policies for pauper burials.

At Monday’s Health and Welfare Committee meeting, Arney elaborated on that discussion, and offered a few suggestions.
“It’s not just in Carter County,” Arney said of the increase in pauper burials. “It’s all over the state of Tennessee.”

The U.S. has seen an increase in pauper burials, which officials attribute to a weakened economy.

Under Tennessee law, in order to qualify for a pauper’s burial family members must fill out a pauper’s burial affidavit to state that they are unable to cover a relative’s funeral costs. After the affidavit is filed, a background check is performed to confirm their financial status.

Once poverty has been established, locally, two of the county’s funeral homes handle the cremation or burial service, which is then billed to the county.

According to Commission Chairman Tom Bowers, who attended the meeting, the county has already exceeded its budget in paying for pauper burials.

“To date, I think we’ve paid for eight this year,” Bowers said. “That’s $4,800 for the taxpayers to pay for people.”

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