How bad can it get? Detroit couldn’t buy more paper to issue death and birth certificates.
Detroit’s funeral directors received this unusual text message last month. “FYI, city of Detroit can’t process death certificates because they have no paper and don’t have money to buy any.”
The message, from a fellow funeral director, was mostly true: The city did stop issuing certified copies of birth and death certificates on July 23, days after the July 18 bankruptcy filing. That day, a nervous paper vendor demanded cash — and the city wanted to do business as usual, on credit.
The paper is special and unique to each jurisdiction so Detroit couldn’t borrow paper from other towns. In the special irony that comes with political fiascos, employees at the vital records department, having no paper to do their work, were paid to sit around doing nothing.
It isn’t a laughing matter for families who need those certificates to proceed with legal matters after a death.
Without certified copies of death certificates, families couldn’t access bank accounts, file insurance claims, or access probate court. The families are often struggling financially, grieving and frustrated by any bureaucratic delay. And although funeral homes provide copies as a service to families, they wind up taking the heat.
Eventually the vendor did supply the paper.
I don’t know who to feel more sorry for—the families who lost a loved one or the children who had the misfortune to be born in Detroit.