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State offers help for Detroit's unclaimed dead

DETROIT (Reuters) - Michigan has offered funding to help speed burials for 185 unclaimed bodies in the morgue that serves Detroit.

Maura Corrigan, the newly appointed head of the Michigan Department of Human Services, has contacted the Wayne County Morgue after learning this week the facility has an overflow of bodies awaiting burial in storage, some since 2008, a spokesman said.

Spokesman Edward Woods said Corrigan was concerned that poor Detroit-area families are not aware the state has a $4.2-million program to pay for indigent burials.

In 2010, about $75,000 earmarked for the program went unclaimed and was shifted to other programs, Woods said.

"If you don't have the financial resources, you don't have to leave your unclaimed family member in the morgue," said Woods. "These are our brothers and sisters and they deserve a burial with dignity."

Detroit is one of the poorest large cities in the nation, according to U.S. Census data, with a poverty rate near 36 percent in 2009.

Corrigan, 62, a former state Supreme Court justice, was appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to head the Department of Human Services, which deals with welfare and child support issues.

Corrigan became aware of the problems at the Wayne County Morgue after reading about them in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Woods said.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)