Update: NFDA Submits Letter to the Editor to Wall Street Journal and Encourages You to Do the Same
On Monday, NFDA shared information about a disappointing article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled “How the Funeral Industry Got the FTC to Hide Bad Actors.” On your behalf, NFDA has submitted a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal pointing out the missed opportunity to present a full and accurate picture of the profession, compliance with the Funeral Rule and the FROP program; you can read our letter below.
We know that many of you were dismayed and angry by the biased picture of funeral service that was painted by this article. Turn your frustration into action! We encourage you to join NFDA in rebutting this article by submitting your own letter to the editor.
Click here to find the full instructions on how to do so. Be sure to note:
- Brevity is important – aim for 272 words
- Email your letter to email@example.com
- Include the headline and date of publication in the subject line of your email (e.g., A Response to “How the Funeral Industry Got the FTC to Hide Bad Actors,” February 5, 2024)
- Do not attach your letter as Word document or PDF; instead copy and paste the text of your letter into the body of the email
- Conclude your email with your real name, city, state and phone number
It’s our hope that if enough funeral service professionals and state and national associations join NFDA in submitting letters, we can show the Wall Street Journal editorial staff that this article in no way reflects the people who work in this profession, caring for grieving families every day, not just according to the law, but with a high degree of ethics, compassion, and professionalism. And, ideally if enough of us email in responses, we’ll catch their attention and NFDA’s response (or maybe one of yours) will be actually printed.
NFDA LETTER: “How the Funeral Industry Got the FTC to Hide Bad Actors.” (February 5, 2024) – A Response to the Wall Street Journal from the National Funeral Directors Association Submitted February 8, 2024
As longtime advocates for the funeral service profession and leaders of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), we felt compelled to respond to the misleading and unfair portrayal of the funeral service profession in the February 5, 2024, article “How the Funeral Industry Got the FTC to Hide Bad Actors.”
This article painted funeral service professionals with a broad brush and insinuates the entire profession is rife with individuals who put profit over people – that is simply unfounded.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to recognize that the vast majority of funeral homes and funeral directors are dedicated professionals who are committed to serving the dying, the dead and the bereaved with compassion, integrity and respect during one of the most difficult times of their lives. These professionals undergo extensive training and adhere to strict laws, regulations and ethical guidelines to ensure that they provide the highest quality of care to grieving families.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule, promulgated in 1984, was established to protect consumers by requiring funeral homes to, among other things, provide clear pricing information. NFDA fully supports efforts to promote transparency and protect consumers.
NFDA worked together with the FTC to develop the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP) in the mid-1990s as a way to increase compliance and offer an educational alternative to the expensive and time-consuming (for both the federal government and funeral businesses) federal litigation process that could be triggered when a funeral home was issued a Funeral Rule violation. A funeral home must complete multiple requirements while enrolled in FROP, which lasts at least three years and includes required education, assessments and fines.
NFDA shares the FTC’s goal of 100% compliance with the Funeral Rule. Offering an educational alternative to a federal lawsuit is important because, in NFDA’s experience, most funeral homes that face alleged violations of the Funeral Rule did not purposefully set out to deceive or harm consumers.
The current Funeral Rule requirement is that price information be produced, “when you begin to discuss any of the following: the type of funeral or disposition that you can arrange; the specific goods and services that you offer; or the prices of your goods and services.” The way the requirement is written is vague, overbroad and inconsistently interpreted by secret shoppers. Every FTC secret shopper that calls or visits a funeral home has their own perception of when this discussion begins. Therein lies the problem: it is interpretation vs. an objective standard.
In the case of nearly every funeral home that has participated in FROP, the alleged violations were a result of a funeral director simply misunderstanding when their discussion reached a point when the requirement to hand out price lists was triggered. When meeting with a family to discuss arrangements, funeral directors are focused on compassion, and sometimes the trigger for presenting a price list is not clear.
When a funeral director’s job is to sit and listen and hold space for a family’s grief, immediately presenting price lists risks implies that price and profit is more important than the people they serve. The framework of the Funeral Rule doesn’t work for every family and, when funeral directors lead with compassion, it can sometimes lead to funeral homes being issued violations by FTC secret shoppers.
There is no doubt in our mind that FROP benefits consumers. There are currently about 18,700 funeral homes in the United States. Of that, only about 500 funeral homes have participated in FROP – that’s just 2.67%. Out of the small number of firms that have participated in FROP, only three have been issued subsequent violations and faced legal action and stiff penalties.
We believe every other former FROP participant is meeting their obligations to consumers under the Funeral Rule thanks to the education they received during their time in the program. This shows that FROP is effective and ultimately helps consumers. Further, the FTC has often touted FROP to Congress as an example of how the FTC is partnering with industry to protect consumers.
NFDA’s role in FROP is strictly limited to education and insinuating otherwise is simply wrong. It is the FTC that is solely responsible for enforcing the Funeral Rule; the agency can shop any firm and cite those that violate the Rule. NFDA has never had a role in enforcing the Funeral Rule, nor does NFDA determine who is prosecuted and who is given the opportunity to enter into FROP. If at any time the FTC determines we are not living up to the terms of our agreement with them to administer FROP, the agency can sever our agreement.
Finally, we recognize that planning a funeral can be stressful, especially when a loved one has just died. Many important decisions must be made in a short time when a family is grieving. That is why we always encourage families to have discussions about their wishes, their budget and what funeral home they want to use well in advance of the need to use a funeral director. This enables families ample time to shop around to find a funeral home that they trust and that has the services they need at a price point that works for them.
Funeral service professionals are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of integrity and professionalism, and we remain committed to serving our clients with dignity, compassion and respect. More information about how families can have these important conversations in advance is available online at www.RememberingALife.com.