DES MOINES — A small nonprofit that helps families pay for funeral costs for their deceased children has asked the state for $100,000.
“Sing Me to Heaven” was founded by Jennifer Mehlert and her mother, Diane McIntosh, both of La Porte City, following the death of Mehlert’s daughter, 5-year-old Natalie, in January 2010 after living with a suspected mitochondrial infection.
“She was born, she was beautiful, she was not able to communicate,” Mehlert said. “She wasn’t able to control her body movements. She was confined to a bed, a wheelchair or our arms. But she could laugh. And we loved her laughter.”
Natalie’s $9,000 funeral was almost too much for Mehlert and her husband, who had been planning for Natalie’s life, not her death.
They figured other parents who lose their children could find themselves in similar situations.
Since then, “Sing Me to Heaven” has raised $60,000 and provided financial help ranging from $100 to $2,000 for 42 families in 17 Iowa counties, said John McDermott, a board member for the group.
He, Mehlert and a handful of other supporters were at the Statehouse Tuesday lobbying on behalf of a $100,000 appropriation contained in a bill by state Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls.
Under the proposed legislation, the Iowa Department of Public Health would hold the $100,000 for “Sing Me to Heaven,” which would take applications from qualified families for assistance of up to $2,000.
Qualifications include the funeral has to be for a child ranging from infant to 18 years old and the parent would have to be on assistance from the state or federal governments or prove a need for the assistance.
“The family would reach out to the funeral home, the funeral home would determine if they have the resources to pay for the funeral, and then they’d be directed to the department. It goes to the state, and then the dollars come back to the family,” Kressig said.
He is asking for a one-time appropriation that could be revisited in later years.
State Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-LeMars, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which is where the bill will have to go now, wasn’t prepared to commit his support.
“Our (budget) targets are pretty tight,” he said. “If we add this, we’ll have to take it out of someplace else.”