Proposed Consent Agreement In the Matter of Service Corporation International and Stewart Enterprises, Inc.; File No. 131-0163
As a Past President of the Washington (Region) Board of Rabbis, and a community leader, I am sincerely grateful for the time and effort that the FTC has put into the 'regional market' for funeral services that is the Washington area Jewish community, regarding SCI's merger with Stewart Enterprises. I was among those given multiple audiences with the FTC staff working on this issue, and am truly thankful for the attention given, and for the recognition of the need for action to preserve competition -- and with it, the possibility of the survival of the consumer-oriented gem that is the 'group contract' of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington (JFPC). Still, I remain concerned about the proposed action, of requiring the divestiture of Ed Sagel's Funeral Home -- a small player in our regional market, which is across the street from (and widely seen as dependent on and in the shadow of) the larger, SCI-owned Danzansky Funeral Home -- rather than of Hines-Rinaldi, with which the JFPC has been working well for a decade now. Though Sagel is closer to our synagogue, I cannot recall a single funeral I've done through them in recent years, versus dozens though Hines-Rinaldi. More than size, however, the real issue is of facilities. The real definition of 'regional market' here concerns those requiring the provision of traditional Jewish funeral services -- which in turn require specialized facilities for washing and dressing the body, which most funeral homes do not have, and which take some significant up-front investment to create. Danzansky and Hines-Rinaldi -- which would both be owned by SCI under the proposed course of action -- have such facilities. Ed Sagel, whose future independence from SCI was meant to be the guarantor of competition and affordable options, does not. As such, the divestiture of Ed Sagel -- which much appreciated, and a step in the right direction -- does not truly protect this regional market, nor obviate the concerns of our community. With appreciation for all that you've already done, I join the chorus of voice surging you to go one step further: requiring the divestiture from SCI not of Ed Sagel, but of a full-service funeral home capable of meeting our community's needs, such as Hines-Rinaldi. Thank you.