FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
Since 1924, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, Inc., has been representing the concerns of it's members who are primarily African American. The National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association is the largest African American funeral service organization in the United States. Many of our members are members of other funeral service organizations. However, for the majority of our members, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association is their only source of information about legislative, regulatory and other funeral service centered issues, and pipeline to the mainstream of funeral service. The overwhelming segment of our membership base is comprised of small, family owned funeral homes, 65% of which are located east of the Mississippi River.
As far as can be determined, the first African American funeral home in the United States was established in the late 1800's in North Carolina. Along with clergy, teachers, and social workers, the funeral service professional was an integral part of the community. As time has passed, our position has remained the same: that of a friend in time of need to the community as well as an extremely well respected and upstanding community member.
The constituent members of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association report a high number of traditional funerals, with few cremations. Families tend to return to the same funeral home generation after general as the funeral home is a stable part of the community with few acquisitions by conglomerates or consolidators. Many member funeral homes are multi generational and firmly rooted in their communities.
A sample of National Funeral Director and Morticians Association members were polled for their responses to the Federal Trade Commission's request for responses. Additional comments were gleaned from a series of workshops presented on a national and local level for our members and affiliate groups. In reviewing the FTC's request for comments, our members chose to focus on four areas of the request:
Definition of Provider
As acknowledged in your request for comments, "The Rule defines a funeral provider as any person, partnership, or corporation that sells or offers to sell funeral goods and funeral services to the public."
Further acknowledged in your document, since the inception of the Rule, the scope of funeral service has changed, and this definition is no longer all encompassing. We therefore feel there is a need to expand the definition of provider to all those who sell funeral goods and services, which have in the past been sold by traditional funeral providers. There is not only a need to expand the Rule, but to make it's content applicable to all providers of funeral goods and services. Those who could come under the domain of the Rule in the future would include but not be limited to:
One member of NFD&MA pointed out that in her state (North Carolina) a casket store has advertised that it handles all parts of the funeral expect the sale of outer containers. This store is in effect entering into the sale of funeral goods and merchandise without having to comply with the Rule. What happens if a consumer buys a casket from a casket store on a pre-need basis, and the store goes out of business, or in an at-need situation fails to provide the agreed upon product? Controls are in place to prevent this in the funeral profession because of the Rule.
In effect, NFD&MA members want to level the playing field so that all providers of funeral services and goods will have a common regulations from which they operate. We feel this will only help the consumer by regulating all who sell funeral goods and services. If the initial intent of the Rule was to put in place mechanisms to prevent consumer fraud, the Federal Trade Commission, we feel, should make the Rule become inclusive of those who have entered into the sale of funeral goods and services in the past twelve (12) years, and further consider those who do so by electronic means such as the Internet.
Casket Handling Fees Clarification
The Rule as amended in 1994 states that it is an unfair or deceptive practice for funeral providers to: charge any fee that is not for the services of the funeral director, or the items selected by the consumer. Placing such a limitation on permissible fees was specifically intended, in part, to prohibit a funeral provider from charging consumers a fee for using a casket purchased from some source other than that funeral provider.
Many of our members are suggesting that the Rule be amended to allow a fee for the time and manpower necessary to "receive" the casket from an outside source. The casket stores do not have set delivery schedules as do the major suppliers. As noted by some of our members in the Washington and Northern Virginia areas, they just show up at anytime and expect someone to be at the funeral home to accept delivery. In some cases, they refuse to bring the casket inside the funeral home Even though we all are aware that the funeral business is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week activity, not many funeral homes keep manpower on the premises at all times. An allowance should be made just as is done for receiving remains from another funeral home. By allowing a "handling" fee this would then conform to the actual definition of "handling".
Also, there is the issue of liability. Even if a disclaimer is signed, once the casket in brought onto the funeral director's property, there is implied liability. A casket handling fee would be similar to the fees charged by most cemeteries when a marker is received from a third party provider. Our members feel again that the playing feel needs to be leveled.
Non-declinable Fees Currently Allowed Under § 453.2(b) (4) (iii) (C)(1) or (C)(2)
In all professional groups some type of non-declinable fee is in effect. Lawyers, physicians, and dentists have charges for office visits and consultations. Those in the funeral profession have historically been available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Funeral service professionals are no different, in that they must recoup overhead charges in some way. Funeral directors are not in the business to sell caskets, we give professional service, which has a value placed on it. A non-declinable fee must be enforced to meet basic costs such as salaries and overhead expenses. Elimination of the non-declinable fee would mean increases in other areas of the General Price List. With a set non-declinable fee, the consumer has the ability to more accurately compare costs of various funeral homes.
What difficulties are providers having complying with the Rule?
In many cases, the Rule overlaps and conflicts with local and state laws. This makes compliance difficult where strong local organizations do not exist and when state boards are not effectively reaching practitioners with information about the Rule. Practitioners may find themselves in the position of having to interpret the Rule as well as interpret state and local laws, and then decide what compliance means for them at the junction of state, local and federal interpretations. Many small providers are not aware ofhow to get good information about the Rule, consequently putting their businesses in jeopardy. While the Rule is not difficult for providers to follow, many providers may have difficulties in interpretations and putting the Rule into effect correctly. Our surveys and meetings with National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association members indicate that many have an inability to obtain definite answers to the Rule because of many different interpretations. There may also be a need for the FTC to work in concert with state regulatory boards to publish a simplified Rule book published in layman's language and easily available for all providers of funeral goods and services as well as the general public.