Nonprofit seeks state funds for child funerals

DES MOINES – A nonprofit group on Tuesday urged Iowa lawmakers to take action on a bill to provide financial assistance for low-income families who can’t afford to bury their children.

Sing Me To Heaven, a foundation that offers support to families who have lost a child, visited the Capitol to encourage lawmakers to schedule a meeting to discuss a bill intended to help low-income families with funeral costs and eventually support it. The bill was assigned to a House Appropriations subcommittee in early February, but it has yet to be discussed.

During a news conference, group founders and volunteers said they need additional money to continue supporting families across the state. They said their current fundraising and promotional efforts don’t garner enough funds to help all families in need.

“If we were to be contacted today, next week, next month by three or four different families, we wouldn’t be able to help all three or four of them,” said Jennifer Mehlert, a foundation co-founder. “We do not have enough money in our budget, in our bank account to help those families, and it’s not easy telling a family no.”

The bill would provide a one-time appropriation of $100,000 to be administered through Iowa’s Department of Public Health. Eligible parents and families could then receive up to $2,000 for funeral expenses after the death of a child, which would be dispensed by Sing Me To Heaven. The bill is still eligible for consideration.

Since 2011, the group has raised approximately $60,000, said John McDermott, a Sing Me To Heaven board member. With those funds, the organization has been able to help 42 families in 17 counties. Some counties in Iowa do now provide funds for burials, but the criteria to receive these dollars are limited.

The funds appropriated by the state could allow the organization to reach more Iowa families coping with the loss of a child and alleviate the financial stress they might experience, McDermott said.

Larry Schweinebart, who became a volunteer after his granddaughter’s burial was partially funded by the foundation, said the effort is as much about respecting the children who have passed as it is about easing financial burdens for families.

“It’s not right that these little children not have a burial that isn’t such a hardship on the family like this,” he said.

Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, who sponsored the bill, said he believes the likelihood of the subcommittee taking action on the bill remains strong, though the legislative session is nearing its end.