New law helps pay funeral costs of children killed by gun violence
The Mychal Moultry Jr. Funeral and Burial Assistance Act was signed into law on Tuesday. It provides up to $10,000 in burial funds for families who lose children under 17 to gun violence.
When 4-year-old Mychal Moultry Jr. was shot and killed in early September, his family couldn’t afford a burial, so they chose cremation — and their funeral expenses still totaled $13,000.
It was Dr. Dave Nayak’s community nonprofit Strength to Love that covered those costs. But Nayak knew then this was not a unique situation.
That’s why Nayak approached state Sen. Jacqueline Collins to spearhead legislation that became the Mychal Moultry Jr. Funeral and Burial Assistance Act.
“When you hear of a family who is forced to cremate their child, instead of bury them, it’s absolutely even more traumatic,” said Nayak. “They have to see that memory of their cremated child on their bedside rather than actually going to a place where they can actually breathe and help the mourning process.”
After several months of lobbying, the bill passed the General Assembly unanimously. Nayak and Collins were joined Wednesday at the Thompson Center by House co-sponsor Rep. Camille Lilly to celebrate. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law on Tuesday.
The legislation creates a grant program through the Office of Violence Prevention, offering up to $10,000 for families who lose a child under 17 to gun violence. Families would work with a funeral service to submit a death certificate and proof of income, such as a pay stub. If their application is approved, the funds would be distributed directly to the funeral home.
Aid will be disbursed beginning July 1, 2023.
She added the law provides some relief to families who “don’t know where to turn” after the death of a child.
“It gives me some feeling of satisfaction that we’re offering them some small outreach to bring some solace to alleviate some of the pain,” said Collins. “We never will be able to alleviate the pain of losing a loved one, but it makes the path a little bit easier to give their child a respectable homegoing.”
Though the state already helps families affected by gun violence through the Illinois Crime Victims and Compensation Act, Nayak said that process can be lengthy, with families sometimes waiting years for reimbursement. The new legislation streamlines the process and minimizes the paperwork so families can receive funds within days.
Wednesday’s announcement was marred by the aftermath of a particularly violent evening in Chicago. On Tuesday, 21 people were shot, two fatally and 11 in two mass shootings on the South Side.
Collins pointed out that “firearm violence is a leading cause of death for children and teenagers in Illinois,” and among Black Illinoisans, the rate is disproportionately high.
That’s why the new legislation and similar means of assistance are “more critical than ever,” Lilly said.
“Gun violence is not going away,” said Lilly. “And we as a government should be available to show that we’re wanting to solve these issues and support the families here in Illinois and nationwide. This type of grant, named after a young 4-year-old, hopefully tells our community that we care, but also tells them that we want it to stop.”
Wednesday’s announcement was particularly personal to Lilly.
“Many of the families who are dealing with loss of that nature think nobody cares, nobody understands,” she said. “But more than they know, families have experienced what they have experienced — I am one of them. I lost my brother [to gun violence] at the age of 21 and we didn’t have this. Knowing it’s in place now … I can go to the families, bring this and our compassion from the state to say this is available to you.”
Chicago Police Department detectives continue to investigate Mychal’s death. No one is in custody. His mother, Angela Gregg, has asked the shooter to turn themselves in.
If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact police or submit a tip anonymously to CPDTIP.com. The Gun Trafficking and Homicide Tip Line also is offering rewards up to $15,000 for information. Anonymous calls can be made to 833-408-0069. Police also have released video of the car they suspect was used by the shooter or shooters.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.