(Note: the following piece is meant to serve as a companion to a segment airing during Global News Toronto — to view video from the program, click here.)
People living in Ontario have a promise made to them to be cared for, even if they are often too poor to properly to make ends meet during critical times. There are subsidies placed on housing, money given out for food, and even cash dispersed to cover funerals.
The problem? Funeral homes across the province are losing valuable money in holding services for these residents at a reduced rate — $62,000 in one year for only 20-30 funerals, according to Brad Jones of Arthur B. Ridley Funeral Home in Toronto (who is also the chair of Toronto & District Funeral Directors social services committee).
Brad sat down to talk to me about the issue, and what can be done to give people more choices when it comes to dealing with their loved ones, while at the same time not breaking the bank.
Matt Carter: So tell everyone not familiar with the situation a little bit of the background.
Brad Jones: Each year Toronto funeral homes provide funerals to 1,200 social service clients, and presently social services pays about 40% of the actual cost. Funeral homes are absorbing the difference.
Basically, each funeral that we do for a social service funeral is approximately $2,500-3,000 less than what we would be charging a family through the door. That makes it tough because that’s not what we would even charge a family through the door. The cost of our vehicles, gases, and tax has gone up over the past 30 years — the actual increase from social services hasn’t been keeping up with inflation and with times.
This is the response you would give to those who are cynical and come at your proclaiming that funeral homes are just out to take advantage of the suffering.
There’s definitely that angle that people come at us [with] quite a bit, but truthfully families get to choose. We don’t decide what they’re having. Families that go through social services are getting two options. First [type A] is a direct burial and direct cremation with no services, or type B — which is having a visitation, a funeral service, and burial, and a cremation. So they are given the choice. Reading the Toronto Star’s website, a lot of people assume that they aren’t given a choice.
What do you think should be done about this?
I think really what we would like to see the city do is if they want to stick with the two options — type A and type B — we would like to see them paying the actual price. It’s less than what the public would pay at actual funeral homes, since what we’ve done is averaged out the price of all the funeral homes in Toronto and took the medium price. It would be an increase for all the funeral homes, but it wouldn’t be for the maximum that it could be. That would be our first choice.
If that’s not possible, then our association that we’re together with — we are going to look at an alternative that they do in Windsor. They get $3,000, which pays for a direct burial and direct cremation with a service, and then the family is eligible to add on services. They can’t change the casket, but if they want a visitation they can pay that extra to the funeral home. I think we have to get away from the perception that social service families get this for free. We don’t give them food stamps in Canada, we give them the social service funding and they go out and buy the groceries they want. We don’t limit what they can purchase except when it comes to a funeral.
So you want to keep the focus on the family while at the same time making this something that’s not going to be extremely detrimental to your business.
That’s right. We believe families should be given the choice.
As the numbers point out, the current system laid out by the government is costing far more than what is being given back in return. For every type A funeral service, a business is currently losing on average $1,500 — for a type B service, that number sky-rockets to approximately $3,270.
Toronto & District Funeral Directors are not looking to make funeral services impossible for those in need — rather, they want to enable the family to better make choices for themselves while not putting the same financial strain upon the business.
For more on this story, check out the Global News TV story here.