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Federal Program Offers Financial Assistance for COVID19 Related Funeral Costs

Federal Program Offers Financial Assistance for COVID19 Related Funeral Costs

As of December 6th, about 226,000 people have availed themselves to the nearly $1.5 billion that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has spent on funeral costs that occurred after January 20, 2020, the date of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S.

For deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic — from January 20th to May 16, 2020 — death certificates must be accompanied by a signed statement from a medical examiner, coroner, or the certifying official listed on the certificate indicating that COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing cause of death. To be eligible for reimbursement, death certificates for those who died after May 16, 2020, must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19.

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

But even with the nation’s coronavirus death toll topping 800,000, many families who are eligible for reimbursement have yet to take advantage of the funeral benefit. The percentage of individuals who have been reimbursed varies dramatically from state to state — from nearly 40% in North Carolina and Maryland to fewer than 15% in Idaho and Oregon, according to state-by-state data compiled by FEMA.

Expenses covered under the FEMA program include funeral services, cremation, and interment, as well as the costs for caskets or urns, burial plots or cremation niches, markers or headstones, transportation or transfer of remains, clergy or officiant services, and the use of funeral home equipment or staff.

While the reimbursement must go directly to individuals, some funeral directors have taken on the task of informing grieving families of the benefit. Many families may simply be unaware of the benefit, but others may opt against seeking the cash out of reluctance to revisit the pain of the death.

The largest states account for some of the biggest shares of the FEMA reimbursement money. The program has paid out more than 21,000 reimbursements in California and Texas, which have both reported more than 74,000 COVID-19 deaths. Residents applied for more than $141 million in each state. The fewest number of reimbursements have occurred in Vermont, where 123 people were awarded a total of about $704,000.

 

The program has been funded using federal stimulus funds, and money remains available. No online applications are allowed.

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