A 75-year-old Manassas widow who scrimped for 10 years to buy a burial plot has been ordered to give up her prepaid funeral as the price for remaining in a Virginia-run home for the elderly.
"All I wanted in life was to be buried near my husband," said the widow, who requested that her name not be disclosed. She moved into the state-supported home for the elderly last August after her husband died and she was unable to support herself.
Her plight was put before the Virginia Senate this week by Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), who denounced the laws that require the woman to give up her funeral plans at "totally insensitive."
Virginia law requires that residents of the public home for the elderly in Manassas, where the widow lives, turn over all assets of more than $600. The widow paid $1,400 for her funeral ceremony.
Colgan on Monday introduced a bill in the state Senate that would exempt prepaid funeral expenses from the seizure law.
"I hope you will join me this session in passing legislation which will prevent elderly people like [the widow] from finding themselves placed in these humiliating positions by too much insensitive bureacracy," Colgan said on the Senate floor.
Since Colgan's speech, the Loudoun County Social Services Department, which handles the woman's welfare payments, had decided to suspend any decision on her funeral, pending action on Colgan's proposed bill.
Ron Eamich, a supervisor with the Loudoun County department, said general relief laws in Virginia require the state to seize "any stocks, bonds and prepaid funeral expenses" valued at more than $600.
Under current law, Eamich said the widow "would have to get a refund from the caretaker where she bought the funeral service and use $800 to pay for her room and board at the home."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Colgan said he has met with the widow and that he was "really touched" by her.
"The funeral was her last bit of dignity. It was difficult to talk to her without getting choked up," Colgan said.
Colgan said that William Lukard, the state commissioner of welfare, informed him yesterday that regulations requiring seizure of prepaid funeral costs for relief recepients may be revised even if his bill doesn't pass.
Eamich said the widow's burial plot "was never considered a resource, just the funeral itself." He added that department policy allows the state to pay a maximum of $500 for any funeral.
If the widow's funeral were to cost more than $900, however, Eamich said the state cannot give out any money.
"It's tough," Eamich said, "but those are the regulations."