Advocates again push for boost in indigent burial assistance


Wanda Peterkin died October 4 in a house fire. Not even a month later, her mother, Vera Hooks, died, too. Their grieving family was left to figure out how it was going to cover the $10,000 in funeral and burial expenses.

Monroe County provides $1,250 toward burials for poor people, but the assistance only makes a dent in the overall costs. House of Mercy pitched in an additional $3,500 for the family, which allowed them to bury Peterkin. But Vera Hooks's children and grandchildren are still trying to find the money to bury her.

Advocates for the poor, particularly Sister Grace Miller and Sister Rita Lewis from the House of Mercy, have for years asked the county to provide more money for indigent burials. In the past, the county covered the costs of a wake, funeral, and burial, but the administration of County Executive Maggie Brooks changed the policy in 2006, Miller says.

Advocates want the county to revert back to the pre-2006 policy, Miller said after a press conference yesterday afternoon, where Members of the Peterkin family talked about their experience.

"We're out here trying to get the county to support the poor people so they don't have to struggle to bury their loved ones," said Gregory Peterkin, Vera Hooks's son and Wanda Peterkin's brother.

Natasha Chatmon traveled from Georgia to attend her aunt's funeral. She said that it's hurtful for family to come in from out of town and then struggle to pay for funerals, especially after scraping together money for travel.

Miller and Lewis have said that the limited funding from the county forces families to cremate their deceased. And for many, that option goes against religious beliefs or cultural practices.

"Why should you be forced to do that when its beyond your belief?" Natasha Chatmon said.

Beginning with the 2013 budget, the county started charging property taxpayers for each indigent burial in their community. Since the majority of the deceased live in Rochester, city taxpayers cover a disproportionate amount of those costs. If the county does, by some chance, increase the indigent burial benefit, city taxpayers would probably get stuck with the bill.

But the county administration has resisted calls to increase the benefits. A county spokesperson said that the administration wouldn't comment on the Peterkin-Hooks, and a liaison for County Executive-elect Cheryl Dinolfo didn't respond to a request for comment.