A traditional Jewish funeral and burial occur soon after death, and is simple, avoiding many of the excesses of the American funeral industry. To make planning easier and simpler, Jewish groups in the nation’s capital have an agreement with a local funeral home: all of the services for one set price for members of any affiliated organization. Thanks to the Service Corporation International-Stewart Enterprises International merger, that agreement is at risk.
The funeral home that has a contract with the Jewish groups is part of Stewart Enterprises International, the smaller company in the bereavement Voltron currently forming in the nation’s funeral industry. The problem for a nationwide funeral chain is that the traditional Jewish funeral lacks profit centers. No viewing, no embalming, no fancy caskets that consist of anything but wood. The contract requires that funeral homes wait 30 days before billing, and that families not be required to visit the funeral home to make arrangements. SCI-owned funeral homes couldn’t meet these requirements, even if they did offer competitive prices.
The contracts provide all of this at a set price: no negotiating, nothing for families to worry about. $1,800 covers everything. This doesn’t just benefit people eligible for the deal, but the existence of the $1,820 contract pulls down prices for traditional Jewish funerals elsewhere across the region. But the groups worry that the arrangement may be in danger when S.C.I. takes charge.