Funeral service provider asks cemetery about cash-only payment for funerals – San Benito News
By GAIGE DAVILA
Special for NEWS
When Albert Vega, funeral director at Thomae-Garza Funeral Home, went to pay for a space for an upcoming funeral at the San Benito Memorial Park cemetery, he assumed business would continue as usual.
Come in, pay the space up front, by check, for a family that has just lost a loved one, then get reimbursed later by the funeral home’s insurer. Vega, who has worked at Thomae-Garza for 19 years, has always done this.
But last Friday, the San Benito Memorial Park declined his check. They told him he had to pay for the space in cash, in advance. Vega, not having the money on hand, was forced to ask a colleague to withdraw money from his personal funds to cover the cost. Vega paid them back afterwards.
“In the past 32 years I’ve been in the funeral industry, this is the first time I’ve heard of a city doing this to families,” Vega told NEWS on a phone call.
The last time Vega paid for space at San Benito Memorial Park was last March, the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with a check. Thomae-Garza provides funeral services throughout the Rio Grande Valley, in private and municipal cemeteries, which accept all checks for space payments, Vega said.
Vega said paying cash for the plots makes it difficult to file claims with Thomae-Garza’s insurance because they want to see transaction records before paying back the funds.
On May 19, 2020, the city of San Benito amended an ordinance established in September 2011 on pricing and payments for the city cemetery: plots purchased in advance can be paid with 25% deposit and completed in 12 monthly payments, and; plots purchased for immediate funerals had to be paid for in full before burial. In the order of 2011, no method of payment is indicated.
When asked why the city was only accepting money for burials as needed, and whether the change in policy was influenced by the growing demand for cemetery space when people died from COVID-19, the City Manager Manuel De La Rosa replied no.
“The rate and policy changes for the city cemetery had been under discussion long before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak,” De La Rosa said in a press release in NEWS. “The decision to require full advance payment only in cash, cashier’s check or money order for parcels in need is simply a matter of how the City conducts its business and is a policy that was in place before updating the order.
Vega said the reasoning the city gave him for the policy change was that they had struggled to get full payment for the families’ plots after the funeral was over.
“I don’t think it’s fair to families, loved ones,” Vega said of the cemetery asking for upfront cash payments for the plots. “(These families) are stepping back in life, they are in total chaos, they have lost a loved one.”
Vega said most families have small life insurance policies, making it difficult to make upfront payment for funeral services and land in cemeteries. He says the city should be more understanding of their financial situation and their grief.
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