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The Hamilton Spectator
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City shouldn't cut funerals for the poor
A proposal to cut funding for funerals for destitute people strikes at the heart of what kind of city Hamilton should be. We appreciate that painful decisions are needed to restrain property tax increases, but some programs are not worth cutting and this is one.

Hamilton's tradition of providing funerals for the poor is a compassionate -- indeed essential -- social service that people rightly expect of a caring community. The city is a last resort, as it should be, in ensuring that people who can't afford even a rudimentary funeral leave this world with their dignity intact.

It's not as if the cost of the funerals, provided to mostly impoverished seniors and the working poor, is inordinate. The city pays for about 300 funerals at a cost of about $350,000 a year. In some cases, the disposal of about 40 unclaimed bodies each year, the expense is unavoidable since the city is legally bound to provide a basic service in such circumstances. We can't imagine that many taxpayers, apart from the most cold-hearted, would begrudge this service.

There are practical implications beyond the humanitarian, in terms of a potential increase in unclaimed bodies and a backlog at the morgue. Social agencies fear that very poor people will simply not claim the body if the city withdraws financial support. In any case, the proposal is out of sync with a budget principle that we have outlined, namely the need to avoid cuts that hurt the most vulnerable. Source.

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January 21, 2003