Death and taxes: El Paso County's pauper burial program ties two certainties together

County helps those who can't afford burials

EL PASO, Texas - Taxes continue to rise and deaths are a part of life. In the 1700s an American politician once wrote, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." It's as true today as it was then.

Death and taxes are also connected through county services. Rarely publicized, El Paso County has a helpful program for those who can't afford to bury their loved one. It's called the "pauper burial program."

While taxes rise, it would appear the citizens of El Paso County are in better position. In the early 2000s it was common for the county to bury or cremate more than 200 people. Last year, there were fewer than 90 death services rendered. This year, the number has barely topped 50 to date.

"We've seen a downward spiral and it's true families are taking care of their own -- you know they're taking that responsibility," said Michael Flores, a programs manager with the county's general assistant program.

However, there is also another sign of the times. The county determined several years ago to stop offering burials for those needing death services. Burials are much more expensive. Instead, only cremations are offered, perhaps another reason for the decline.

"We do have those clients that started with us, but we tell them the services we provide and they say, ‘You know what, thank you for what you're doing but we'd rather prepare for the traditional services,'" said Flores.

According to online sources the national average cost of a funeral is $6,500. Pat Haggerty, brother of former El Paso County Commissioner Dan Haggerty, said his brother was disgusted by the high cost of funeral services. As a result the now deceased Haggerty pushed for a low-cost burial, which included a homemade casket.

"It's very expensive," said Pat Haggerty. "I mean, we did the bare minimum and it was still five or six thousand bucks."

Further down the road, a "salesman wanted" sign can be seen hung outside a local funeral home. Another sign that death has become big business. However, the county continues to work to help that trend for those who can't afford it.

For information on the pauper burial program you can visit the general assistance page of the El Paso County website.

comments powered by Disqus