COVID-19 funeral reimbursement: You can apply for $7,000 soon. Here’s what we know

March 18, 2021 0 By boss

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The Federal Emergency Management Administration will soon begin reimbursing low-income families for coronavirus-related funeral and burial costs. Starting in April, FEMA will begin accepting applications from eligible families, the organization said Tuesday. 

The measure was part of the December COVID-19 relief bill, which also included a second stimulus check of up to $600. The bill includes $2 billion for people who have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and may have gone into debt to pay for the funeral and burial of a loved one. That funding was approved in February, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both New York Democrats, said on Feb. 8, and FEMA is setting up the program to reimburse families in need. 

Here’s everything we know so far about the funeral reimbursement funds, including who is eligible and how to apply. 

Who can apply to get reimbursed for COVID-19 related funeral expenses?

We don’t yet know exactly who will be eligible to receive these funds, or if it will be based solely on income level or some other set of factors. 

“If you are a family who couldn’t afford or had to just stretch, went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000 from FEMA,” Schumer said at a press event on Feb. 8.

The funding will be available for funeral costs incurred between Jan. 20 and Dec. 31, 2020, but not for funerals that took place in 2021, a FEMA spokesperson told CNET. 

To be eligible for the assistance, you need to meet the following conditions, according to FEMA

  • The death must have occurred in the US, including the US territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a US citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a US citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien.)

Schumer estimated that more than $200 million of that funding will go to New York, particularly to epicenters of the virus like Corona, Queens.

How much money can you get reimbursed?

The bill says that FEMA will reimburse families up to $7,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn’t yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds. 

In 2019, the median national cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault or casket is included (which is often required by a cemetery), the median cost went up to $9,135. And that doesn’t take into account cemetery, monument or headstone costs, or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or an obituary fee, the NFDA noted.

When and how will you be able to apply for COVID-19 funeral reimbursement funds?

The details are still being worked out, but FEMA is creating a dedicated toll-free phone number that can be used to apply for the funeral assistance. The agency will begin accepting applications in April. In the meantime, it recommends families begin gathering any documentation of funeral costs (more below). 

“FEMA is working quickly to finalize an implementation plan and interim policy to support the delivery of funeral assistance to eligible citizens,” a FEMA spokesperson said in a February email. “To help administer the program, FEMA is hiring contract support through the federal acquisitions process to help administer the program. The contract is open for proposals until Feb. 8. After a contract is awarded, FEMA will make an announcement later this year when applications are being accepted.”

In a March follow-up, a FEMA spokesperson said the assistance will be implemented in April, but that additional guidance is still being finalized. It’s likely that this process could take a while to get sorted out. 

Progress has also been slow due to concerns that the program could be vulnerable to fraud, Politico reported. With more than 500,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the US so far, this would be the largest program of its type that FEMA has launched. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised FEMA that they cannot verify whether individual deaths are COVID-related; instead, FEMA will need to rely on state health agencies and medical institutions to cross-reference federal data with death certificates, according to Politico. The agency is also trying to implement ways to prevent people from forging death certificates to collect money, and situations where multiple family members try to apply for reimbursement for the same relative. 


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What kind of information will you need to apply? 

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation: 

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the US, including the US territories and the District of Columbia. (You can get one by contacting the state or county vital records office. Sometimes a funeral home or a third-party provider can also request this for you.)
  • Funeral expenses documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA is not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

Has FEMA ever done something like this before? 

Yes. Under the Stafford Act, FEMA can offer help with funeral costs if the deaths were caused by a presidentially declared disaster. This was the case after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. After three hurricanes hit Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico in 2017, FEMA paid about $2.6 million in response to 976 approved applications for related funeral expenses, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is on a far larger scale than anything FEMA has provided assistance for in the past, a spokesperson told CBS. The agency has already provided more than $56.2 billion in the fight against the pandemic, the spokesperson said. 

“We understand the financial and emotional turmoil COVID-19 has brought to our nation, and we are committed to bringing funeral assistance to the American people as quickly as possible,” a FEMA spokesperson said. “We are working to streamline the delivery of this program to make it easier for people who lost loved ones to apply for and receive assistance. It’s taking some time to develop the right process and tools to make this program easy, efficient and effective for everyone.” 

For more, check out everything to know about the third stimulus check and everything to know about the COVID-19 vaccine.

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