Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Need to fund murder victims burial law

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By Rich Miller

Serabi Medina’s family is currently raising money online to pay for her funeral. You’ve probably read or heard about how the nine-year-old girl was allegedly deliberately shot in the head and murdered by a neighbor in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood earlier this month.

But the fundraising shouldn’t be necessary.

Last year, House Bill 2985 created the Murdered Children Funeral and Burial Assistance Act. The measure unanimously passed both legislative chambers and was signed into law on May 10, 2022. The law was named after Mychal Moultry, a four-year-old boy murdered in 2021. “My son will be remembered,” Mychal’s mom told a reporter last year.

The law allows the Illinois Department of Human Services to pay up to $10,000 per murdered child funeral and burial starting July 1 of this year, but that spending was “subject to appropriation.” That legalese means the services can only be paid for if the program is specifically added to the state’s budget law with a dollar amount attached to it. And, as so often happens with legislation like this, the money was not properly inserted into the final bill, which means families like Serabi’s might not see a dime – although there is hope that a solution will be found.

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Rich Miller

The problem with the system is that the buck doesn’t seem to really stop anywhere. The original Senate sponsor retired. The governor signed the bill at a Peoria event, but his budget office and the Department of Human Services didn’t include it in the spending plan Gov. Pritzker proposed in February. The legislative staffs also apparently don’t track bills to make sure programs are funded.

It looks like the program slipped through the cracks because, according to the governor’s office, the bill’s House original sponsor apparently made an honest mistake and mistook an appropriation for another burial program to be a funding source for the child burial legislation.

Rep. Camille Lilly is the original House sponsor of the murdered child funeral bill and also chairs the House Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee. She claimed first through a spokesperson and then in a phone conversation with my associate, Isabel Miller, that the law had been funded last year and, when no money was spent, $5 million was re-appropriated this year.

Trouble is, the law didn’t fully take effect until July 1, 2023, so it wouldn’t have been funded during the 2022 budget process.

More importantly, according to the governor’s office, the $5 million appropriations line Rep. Lilly pointed to is for an existing burial program for adults within three different Public Aid Code articles identified in the bill’s language, but not for the children’s program, which is in a different article of the code.

The Department of Human Services is “committed to implementing this law and is planning to utilize some of this appropriation to cover the children’s program,” explained Jordan Abudayyeh at the governor’s office. But the department will have to draft and implement rules to accomplish this because there’s no clear appropriation for the child program.

The rules, Abudayyeh said, will be “retroactive so funeral/burial expenses up to $10,000 may be covered related to tragedies that occurred between July 2022 and July 2024.”

Hopefully, this will all be fixed. But, as I mentioned above, this is all too common in Springfield. Legislators and advocates regularly pass bills that require government spending and then don’t adequately engage during the budget-making process (which is not what appears to have happened here).

The Department of Human Services was required by last year’s law to have new administrative rules in place by this July 1, but since the funding wasn’t in the budget, DHS put it on the back burner. That shouldn’t have happened.

Staffs in both the legislative and executive branches are already stretched thin. The House’s appropriations staff is trying to form a union, and their director recently announced his pending resignation. There’s lots of flux everywhere. Even so, somebody smarter than I needs to come up with a solution to this.

Separately, Rep. Lilly also pointed out to Isabel that the state still has trouble convincing funeral homes to conduct the services and then wait for reimbursement because of the state’s long history of extremely slow payments. State reimbursements flow more quickly now, but it’s hard to live down a bad reputation.

In the meantime, if you would like to help Serabi Medina’s family pay for her funeral and burial, go to gofundme.com/f/serabi-medina

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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