By Quinci LeGardye, California Black Media
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an alarming number of deaths over the past year: just under 3 million people across the globe; more than half a million people in the United states; and north of 60,000 victims died here in California.
The families and loved ones of those victims have been slammed with unexpected funeral costs. Many of them have had to suffer the loss of someone they loved while facing unanticipated financial strains caused by the pandemic.
In an effort to provide some relief for those Americans, the federal government has announced a new program.
“The COVID -19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families. At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters. We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus,” reads the official announcement of the program on FEMA’s website.
“Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate,” said acting FEMA administrator Bob Fenton.
Beginning April 12, FEMA will provide financial relief for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. Anyone who lost a loved one to COVID-19 will be able to apply for retroactive reimbursements for funeral costs, up to $9,000 per burial.
Funeral expenses will count as the purchase of burial, a plot, a headstone, clergy services, cremation, the transfer of remains or other services associated with a funeral. According to National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,640 in 2019.
Funding for the program was included in both COVID-19 stimulus packages passed by Congress recently — the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act signed by former President Trump in December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden in March 2021.
Applicants for the program will be required to provide an official death certificate attributing the death either directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and show that the death occurred in the U.S. In addition, they will have to submit funeral expense
documents, such as receipts or a funeral home contract. Applicants will also have to provide proof of funeral funds received from other sources, as the program will not reimburse funds received from burial insurance or financial assistance from agencies or other sources.
If multiple people contributed toward funeral costs, they will be able to apply under a single application as applicant and co-applicants. According to FEMA, the agency will reimburse funeral costs for multiple people in the same family, up to a maximum of $35,000.
Consideration of reimbursements for funeral expense began as early as May 2020 when Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) introduced the COVID Funeral Assistance Act. It proposed reimbursements of up to $10,000. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also been an advocate for federal funeral assistance.
“Families across this country are living on the edge because of this public health and economic crisis. On top of facing unimaginable hardship and loss, the last thing they should have to worry about is how to pay for funeral expenses,” Lee said.
FEMA has also included a fraud alert on its website.
“We have received reports of scammers reaching out to people offering to register them for funeral assistance. FEMA has not sent any such notifications and we do not contact people prior to them registering for assistance,” it reads.
To learn more, applicants can visit the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance page on FEMA.gov, or call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Hot Line at 844-684-6333, or TTY at 800-462-7585.