Carolyn Jacobi, Founder1-301-989-3254
INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE
August 9, 1999
Donald Clark, Secretary
Re: 16 CFR Part 453
Dear Mr. Clark:
This letter is submitted to the Commission's Federal Register Notice soliciting comments on the effectiveness of and the continuing need of the " Funeral Rule."
As a self-proclaimed, consumer advocate, I find it to be quite an honor to have this opportunity to comment on such a vital issue. My crusade was born out of my own negative experience involving the death and burial of my father. After being featured by the press on a regular basis, I received an out pouring of calls for help. These cries for help were from many, many consumers in my fine state of Maryland who had no where to turn for help at the most vulnerable time of their lives. After this exposure and many demands for help, I was led by a power greater than I to create a tag name for my new passion so that I could assist many of the consumers who had reached out to me for help. Thus, the tag name ETERNAL JUSTICE was born. After two years of actively mobilizing and educating the consumers of their rights and lobbying upon the legislators, Maryland had the foresight to enact legislation to create a cemetery oversight committee. Even though it is not utopia, and consumers, as well as the Director still consults me, it sincerely serves as the beginning of protection for the consumer at this critical time. I have had the opportunity to travel much of the United States, answering the call of many victimized consumers. It is impossible for me to list each state and success, but I will supply you with excerpts of my activities. ( See exhibit A).
Eternal Justice supports the commission's endeavor to protect the consumer, by reviewing the effectiveness of the " Funeral Rule." It is my understanding that the burial or cemetery issue was not considered originally because of the lack of response from the consumer on the issue that would indicate a need for such a review. Realizing that was not the case, I made it my goal to alert and educate the consumer so that they would be mobilized to take advantage of this opportunity to be heard. I hereby submit to you commentary and petitions from many different states. If my schedule had permitted, I would have been able to more than double those that are being supplied to you. As you can see in Exhibit B, submissions from more than 2,000 consumers, who are reaching out directly to the commission or indirectly thru their local legislators for help. The problems extend from continuous improper maintenance to denial of their right of choice. Since the inception of Eternal Justice, I became cognizant that there had been much press on the issue of abuses, within the cemetery industry across the United States. After checking many court documents, I became surprised at the vast number of court cases pending or adjudicated. ( See exhibit C ). As I traveled the United States I have had the great opportunity to educate and encourage local authorities. I have spoken in front of Mayors, Governors, and councilmatic representatives, encouraging them to enforce consumer protection laws, already a part of the local government. Reminding that when there aren't definite laws governing cemeteries, they will have to use any of the existing consumers' health and safety laws that are a part of their local jurisdictions. (See Exhibit D, Video tape.) I have used the power of the camera to record visuals to document, constant poor maintenance, consumer fraud; in particular to define consumers paying for services such as installation of memorials only to find them just thrown on the ground; many times on the incorrect grave. Many times the superficial installations are memorials propped up on cinder blocks. ( See video tape Exhibit E). ( See picture album exhibit F, 150 photos.) There are those who proclaim that these situations do not exist or they are isolated. The fact is that these pictures document many cemeteries from many corners of the United States. Some of these sightings are captured at all categories of ownerships of cemeteries. Therefore, I not Only Encourage your endeavor, But I would Highly Recommend That You consider Changing the Title to the Death Care Rule. This new title would easily encompass the entire industry. Surely even with this new title, strong consideration must be given to analyzing the subcategories. This thought is prompted by the facts that there are certain items that fall neither under Funeral nor Burial. If the goal is to protect all consumers, then all phases of this very sensitive industry must be included in the proper category in order to achieve true consumer protection, at the same time respecting the RIGHT of states.
I have no intention of taking any credit from the states' ability to govern, but I must consider that there are too many variances within the states' laws. This tends to confuse the consumer in this highly mobile society. ( See exhibit G). State laws vary from very severe too very lax. In many instances they leave many questions unanswered. In many instances state regulation is at a great advantage for the consolidators, yet not always advantageous for the consumer. Many states have absolutely no regulation of value to address the scope that needs to be considered. There are even local municipalities that are suffering financially when the state authority does not fulfill its obligation to the citizenry thru proper enforcement and oversight. ( See exhibit H). Unfortunately in my travels, I have found in many states a sense of ignorance of the interpretation of the law involving this industry. In some instances I even suspected collusion because of the intimate setting.
The Rules " unbundling " provision perhaps has given some relief to the victimization of the consumer but unfortunately has not given the consumer the pure protection that the consumer needs. For example it does not provide the consumer with the necessary protection against harassment and price gouging. Even thou the modern day consumer seems very sophisticated, I find in most instances the consumer remains ignorant of their rights because of the mental state they are in: particularly during the at-need phase. The unbundling provision protects some consumers with some items such as caskets, but not all of the consumers with all products needed for funeral, burial or final memorialization. This is another reason for expansion under another title.
The DEATH CARE INDUSTRY HAS BECOME PROGRESSIVELY MORE CONCERNED with profit rather than providing compassion, knowledge and service to consumers at reasonable profitable prices. Free enterprise and the right to make a profit is the building block of our economy. Yet do these rights make it correct for loved ones to be unable to put closure to the death of their loved ones, because of many harsh and aggressive sales tactics. Is it correct for the consumer to have to endure the abuses of violations of pioneer laws of the Land? The time has come for you the Commissioner to consider without reservation the need for regulation under your authoritative powers.
I would recommend that your agency conduct a "National Sweep" of all providers of the industry, so that the decisions reached will benefit the consumer. Using this process will allow you to look at the entire industry from a very objective point of view. Then the reality of the aforementioned weaknesses within the regulatory vehicles will no longer be a myth, but will become absolute reality. National "Sweeps" conducted by your agency in the past have proven to be a positive vehicle for the purpose of decreasing the number of violations and consumer abuses. Therefore it is very just that all consumers are protected in all categories of the industry.
The consumer must be educated thru sterile disclosure in all facets of the industry. Lack of enforced regulation has indeed caused many of the abuses and violations. This is even more important because of the trend to pre-need many items versus waiting until the time of need. The consumer must have the peace of mind, knowing that their monies invested are secure rather than experiencing a very indefinite situation as many families are experiencing in the state of Wisconsin, city of Milwaukee and the city of Peoria in the state of Illinois. The consumers ' financial investment must be protected. The consumer must not be coerced to pay certain add on charges even though they have pre-needed, for the inevitable.
In conclusion; Eternal Justice recommends the following in order to bring relief to all consumers who are going to die;
* Enforcement must be guaranteed so that each consumer is given the explanation of the available choices and options prior to entering into a contractual agreement. They must be provided the information necessary in order to make such a decision.
* The amended " unbundling " provision must be made available to protect all consumers in all categories of the Death Care Industry.
* With the agreements between the Catholic Archdioceses and some of the major consolidators; relief must include the consumers using facilities within this category.
* Protection for the consumer must be provided so that tombstones, markers, monuments etc. cannot be moved in order to recycle graves.
* Cemeteries must be held accountable for the inventory of the Deceased consumers deposed within their individual cemetery. Consumers can no longer suffer because of the crime of " Grave Snatching."
* All categories of the Death Care Industry must be held accountable to abide by the Laws of the Land already adopted.
* Creative pricing must be discontinued. This method is used in order to seem as the owners are in compliance.
* Deceptive sales tactics must be abolished.
* Regulation must be uniform and above all Enforced.
* In this mobile society, the consumer must no longer have to contend with the variances that exist within state laws. State regulation going from LAX TO DRACONIAN. In many instances NONE.
* Trusting must be enforced and guarded. This would eliminate the vast number of raped care funds leaving the consumer in most instances without any or very little protection. It is important to stop the vast mismanagement of the consumers money which is held in these accounts.
* Consolidation must be sterilized.
* All laws must be revisited and readjusted when deemed necessary on a regular basis.
* The FTC must guarantee stringent rules governing TRUST FUND AUDITING. Many states have no such vehicle, therefore giving the consumer no protection. This is paramount with the trend toward PRE NEED.
* In either pre need or at need, the cemetery sales reps are using deceptive sales practices in order to produce the weekly or monthly quotas given them, in order to retain employment. In many instances the consumer makes purchase they do not need or want. Even at the pre need stages proper disclosure is not always in existence.
* The consumer must be protected from excessive charges, when making a purchase from an outside source. These charges must comply with laws of the land as well as case law which dictates ACTUAL LABOR COST.
* All providers must supply consumer protection brochures that are educational and valid.
* Disclosure must be fully defined.
The FTC must not only extend the " Rule," but paramount consideration must be given to converting the title so that it will include all providers, therefore protecting all consumers. Merchandise traditionally used must be properly defined and categorized. Educating the consumer before and at need is a supreme must. With the major changes in the industry, it is imperative that the "Rule " is revisited and adjusted for sterile protection of all consumers. The aggressive movement of the major corporations dictates the need for such action to commence at once. My travels have convinced me of the need for helping the many consumers who are crying out for help. In many instances they get absolutely no relief even when there is a state regulatory arm. During my travels I have acquired a wealth o f documented information. I have more than 200 video tapes, hundreds of still pictures and many press clippings. If there is any doubt within the minds of the commission, I would be more than willing to share those that I have not used as exhibits. I am very interested in taking part in any commentary that your commission will make available. There is no right way to do anything that is wrong. There is no wrong way to do anything right. Injustice anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.