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Counties Cope As Indigent Burials Increase

In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners' offices donate unclaimed remains to the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the "Body Farm," where students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility has had to stop accepting the donations at times in recent years because it received so many. In South Dakota, indigent burial costs rose to a point that the governor signed a bill in March allowing counties to have remains cremated, in part to help control costs that were busting the budgets of some counties.

All the costs "can be a problem for medical examiners around the country," Dr. Gregory A. Schmunk, the Polk County Medical Examiner in Des Moines, Iowa, and president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

The U.S. economy fell into a deep recession in 2008 â¿¿ a dip it has slowly been pulling out of. Nationally, the unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.

The cost of a regular adult funeral is about $6,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. This includes everything but cemetery, monument or marker costs and miscellaneous charges such as flowers or obituaries. Monuments or markers sell for anywhere from $300 for a small marker to several thousand dollars for a larger headstone, while flowers cost anywhere from $50 to $250.

Funeral homes are generally cooperative in setting up a burial if the body goes unclaimed, but balk at the expense, Kirby said.

"Some will not do them," Kirby said. "We feel like we should. They deserve a burial like everyone else."

In Kentucky, counties are required to pick up the bill for indigent funerals, something that causes occasional budget busting.

Buddy Dumeyera, a Louisville deputy coroner who runs the indigent burial program, has seen the annual number of pauper burials in Jefferson County jump from 65 in 2005 to 300 in 2012. The deaths cover everything from families who cannot afford a funeral to people with no one to claim their remains.

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