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Social Services, Are They Really Getting the Service They Need?

Everyone in Canada has the right to a proper burial or respectful final disposition. I am grateful that Canada has the social programs in place which it does. In many other countries, poor families spend years repaying the cost of a funeral.

I want to talk about our social services clients. A few years ago, the government of Saskatchewan decided that the maximum funding allowed for people receiving social assistance would be $3850. There was outrage from clients, funeral home owners, managers and directors. We have been trained to serve to the best of our abilities and this decision tied our hands and mandated the absolute bare minimum to our low income families.

Why should the government have the authority to mandate prices in the funeral industry, when each home is a private businesses? After all, the phone company doesn't invoice ten cents to social services clients for their phone bill. The electrical company, isn't mandated to provide electricity for only a dollar a month, and property managers, don't have to cut their rent prices to accommodate low income families.

The ministry of social services pays the invoice submitted by the other companies; yet we are mandated to accommodate these clients at a reduced cost. We sometimes even lose money on social services funded funerals.

We reluctantly comply with this government policy, which we unfortunately cannot change. After all, we are here to serve. All of us are aware of inflation and that the price of goods and services, continues to rise. The funeral industry isn't an exception to his rule. We have a budget and need to stay in business; cars, facilities, equipment, caskets, chemicals, and utilities cost money. Workers need to eat and a healthy diet doesn't consist of leftover egg salad, date squares and Nanaimo bars.

The standard of basic funeral service, varies with each individual, but most have a general idea of what that looks like and its all relatively similar. It entails some kind of officiant leading the ceremony, possibly a prayer, a guestbook, memorial cards, flowers, and a time of gathering after. Social services funding does not cover these items. How does this lack of coverage effect the people we serve?

During arrangements, I've had families become frustrated with me and the system. They are stuck with the standard unattractive grey cloth covered casket, or urn. People are angry that the funding doesn't include any form of what they deem to be a basic service. Its really difficult to explain to someone, that it is not possible to provide these items at no cost.

I have felt frustrated when dealing with clients who are what some of may, call entitled . I used to think, I'm providing you the best service I possibly can and its a valuable one. You're not even paying for it, my tax dollars are. Its free and your still complaining.

After some reflection I realize this thought process is wrong. It comes from a privileged mentality. Where the funding comes from is irrelevant, I am salary and this is my job. Nobody wants to hear about funeral home finances or expenses when their family member just died.

We don't know what someone else's situation is, or why they're there. If I put myself in their shoes, It is a different story. Their child just died, and it's devastating. Maybe they're dealing with major health issues, in addition to the passing of their dad. They were having financial problems before their mom died and can't even fathom covering another bill. They feel totally helpless and they feel like they just hit rock bottom. It is a stressful situation.

When you're stressed, you can't think clearly. Hearing the words "no, we can't provide that for free," is devastating to a grieving person. Far too often, I have heard from low income clients that the previous funeral home did not provide them with the tools they needed to create a service for their loved one.

We can't change the governments decision on this cutback, nor can we pay for "luxury items" or provide services at no cost. If we do the bare minimum, by telling families they'll have to figure out the rest on their own, then we are failing ourselves as funeral directors and failing our families. We are are here for leadership and direction. Providing the information on how a low income family can still honour the life of their loved one should be part of every funeral homes policy.

If families can't afford an officiant, you should have brochures available on how to write a service or perhaps direct them to places such as the Salvation Army Church where they will provide one at no charge. If they can't afford to pay for things like flowers, a guestbook and cards and these things are important to them; then we need to direct them to a place where they can buy at low cost or produce their own.

It may not be fancy, but the library allows people to use computers at no cost and printing is only ten cents a page. In the winter, synthetic flowers are super cheap at the dollar store. In the summer, they may have a potted plant or some lilies growing in their garden. These items should be in written format, so they can return and review the information. There are options and they may not be glamorous, but we need to provide them, in order to empower our families. We need allow them to say goodbye to their loved ones with dignity, regardless of income.

You might be thinking that the above suggestion is stupid. Maybe you believe that giving families, such obvious low cost information is insulting. Maybe you think they conspire and get rich families to do the same. That is highly unlikely.

If you carry these beliefs, then you are not thinking from a grieving poor persons perspective. If you really had no money, these options, sound far more appealing than a direct 'no, figure it out yourself.' Don't kid yourself, anyone who can afford to print in colour, knows that staples can do that for them.

Rather than telling a social services family that they can't have something because they can't afford it, why not give them options to have it? Deliver this information with compassion and understanding and I believe it will be well received, by a family who feels absolutely hopeless and lost.

You might be asking, "why should I go over and above for a family who isn't spending anything on their service?" Firstly, because its our job. Secondly, people talk, and theres a good chance that someone else in the community attending that funeral, is not on social services. They will tell their friends and families, that you were patient, kind, and more compassionate than the other funeral home. Perhaps they will come back and have a ten thousand dollar funeral service with you in the future.

It is good business practice to serve all of your families to the best of your ability. An informative guide for families with small budgets is a boon to your company. Nobody is asking you to do it all for free, but you should want to provide the tools, so all families feel that coming to you is valuable, and that they matter.

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