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New law will fund funerals for child victims of gun violence in Illinois

Dr. David Nayak
@strengthtolove1
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Dr. David Nayak worked with legislators to author the Mychal Moultry Jr. Act.

When a family loses a child to gun violence, the cost of burial can cause even more pain for low-income families. An anticipated new law will ease that burden.

The Mychal Moultry Jr. Act is named for a 4-year-old killed by gun violence in Woodlawn on Chicago’s south side in September 2021. The bill’s language was written by Dr. David Nayak, who runs the Strength to Love outreach clinic in Chicago.

Nayak founded Strength to Love in 2019, with a goal to fund funerals for children lost to gun violence for families that could not afford burials, among other public health campaigns. Since founding, they have funded the funerals of children lost to gun violence across the Chicagoland area.

Nayak said the goal of the bill is to codify funding in state law for children lost to gun violence. He said he has seen firsthand the stress of financial strain on low-income families while they mourn a child.

“Losing a child to gun violence is one of the most horrific family tragedies, and during that period of time you are forced to endure such financial hardships of paying for a funeral,” said Nayak.

Under current law, families are reimbursed by the state for these funerals after the fact. If a family is unable to pay the costs up front, they may crowdsource funds or choose cremation rather than a burial. The reimbursement process is often lengthy, leaving families in debt for an indeterminate time.

The average cost of a funeral in Illinois in 2021 was $9,500, according to the National Association of Funeral Directors. This bill would have the state paying up to $10,000 per funeral directly to funeral services providers.

The fact that this law exists, Nayak said, is tragic in itself. He said he’d prefer Illinois have no children lost to gun violence, but any relief is welcome for these families.

“Those families that are experiencing such trauma during this period of time that if we can address some portion of that, so that they may conduct a respectable burial, it will help them through this tragic period of time,” said Nayak.

Nayak says Chicago is on track to see over 60 children die from gun violence in 2022. But this crisis not only affects Chicago, said Nayak.

“For example, in Peoria, Illinois in 2021, five children under the age of 17 were killed by gun violence. And in East St. Louis, seven children were killed,” Nayak said.

Qualifying families statewide will have access to this program. This funding will be available to families whose income is within 150% of the poverty line–for example, in 2021, qualifying income for a family of 4 would be $40,000.

House Bill 2985 was sponsored by Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, and Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Oak Park, and has been sent to Gov. Pritzker’s desk to await signing. Once signed, it will be effective immediately.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.