Every funeral home and cemetery feels the pain of this economy, but that pain runs deeper for Missouri and Illinois funeral directors. Per capita, Missouri funeral homes bore the greater brunt of the NPS collapse. In the same year NPS collapsed, the IFDA master trust was forced to divest its key man insurance policies and force substantial losses on preneed accounts. While both states’ funeral directors were angered by the losses, Illinois funeral directors have been faster to accept some of the responsibility for their preneed failure, and to work towards change. Recent comments of MFDEA representatives reflect an association in denial, and on the path of further alienation.

In February, the Missouri funeral association held a legislative day that called for members to blitz state legislators on three bills: SB767, HB1769 and HB1770. When the Missouri cemetery association voiced opposition to SB767, that bill’s sponsor sought input from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The State Board called a meeting to discuss the three bills.

 With regard to each Bill, the funeral association was afforded the opportunity to explain the bill and their intent for the legislation. With regard to the two House bills, the association stated its intent was to elevate the professionalism of the industry. Really?

One of the bills, HB1770, proposes to prohibit preneed sales by any person other than a licensed funeral director. One association representative offered to the State Board that if preneed sales had been restricted in such a nature years ago, the industry would not have suffered through the National Prearranged Services collapse. Such reasoning requires everyone to turn a blind eye to the fact that NPS’ demise was accelerated by a program that was sold by licensed funeral directors. NPS maintained two separate sales programs, and the one sold by funeral directors made promises that were too good to be true.

The association’s twisted logic is further magnified by HB1769. Through this bill, the association supports a new two-year degree/certificate requirement for funeral directors that would eliminate the current apprenticeship program. To make the education requirement more palatable, current licensees will be exempted. Absent from the bill (and any other association proposal) is a requirement for continuing education. So, the association sees a need to educate the state’s future funeral directors, but no need to educate those funeral directors who sold NPS preneed contracts.

When the three bills were met with criticism and opposition at the State Board meeting, association representatives (and supporting Board members) became defensive and accusatory by admonishing the opposition for blocking education needed so badly by the industry. In reality, the bills were opposed because they are protectionist in nature, and poorly written. When the association had ‘floated’ these issues at prior Board meetings, they were met with many of the same criticisms. Such actions only serve to erode the association’s credibility and effectiveness.

In contrast, the recent successes of the IFDA can be attributed to industry representatives who became involved in the association, put aside their differences, and searched for common ground. Through that approach and hard work, the IFDA is earning back credibility with the industry, regulators and legislators.