Federal program offers money to cover COVID-19 funeral costs


BOSTON – When Wanda Olson’s son-in-law died in March after contracting COVID-19, she and her daughter faced more than their sudden grief. They must have found money for a cremation.

Even without a funeral, the bill was close to $ 2,000, a hefty sum that Olson initially covered. She and her daughter then learned of a federal program that reimburses families up to $ 9,000 for funeral expenses for loved ones who died of COVID-19.

Olson’s daughter submitted a claim to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, received a down payment in June, and was able to repay her mother the $ 1,974.

“If it hadn’t been available, we would have paid the money ourselves,” said Olson, 80, of Villa Rica, Ga. “There was no paperwork. It was a very simple and well managed process.

Her son-in-law was traveling a lot, working on air conditioning systems in theaters, restaurants and businesses when he started to feel unwell, Olson said. After a few days at home, he went to the hospital and was put on a ventilator. He died a few weeks later.

“He was never able to overcome it,” she said.

To be eligible for reimbursement, death certificates for people who died after May 16, 2020 must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19.

For deaths that occurred during the first few months of the pandemic – January 20 to May 16, 2020 – death certificates must be accompanied by a signed statement from a medical examiner, coroner, or designated certifier. on the certificate indicating that COVID-19 was the cause or contributory cause of death.

The percentage of people reimbursed varies widely from state to state – from nearly 40% in North Carolina and Maryland to less than 15% in Idaho and Oregon, according to state-by-state data compiled by FEMA. .

Although reimbursement should go directly to individuals, some funeral directors have taken it upon themselves to inform bereaved families of the benefit.

After the benefit was announced, David Shipper, owner of Sunset Funeral Home, Cremation Center and Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana, posted announcements to let people know that help was available. if they qualified.

“Nine thousand dollars is a lot of money. We wanted to find a way to tell people about it, ”he said. “We stopped advertising awhile ago, but when we have a new family who have died from COVID, we tell them about the program. “

The workers at the shelter will sit down with the families, gather the necessary documents, contact FEMA by phone and help them go through the process if they ask, he said.

Many families may simply not be aware of the benefit, but others may choose not to ask for the money out of reluctance to see the pain of death again, Shipper said. He said the best time to ask for help is when planning a funeral.

“They’re much more likely to take advantage of it then than if they’ve already spent the money and don’t want to open it again,” Shipper said.

The larger states account for some of the largest shares of FEMA reimbursement money.

The program has made more than 21,000 reimbursements in California and Texas, both of which have reported more than 74,000 deaths from COVID-19. Residents have requested more than $ 141 million in each state.

The smallest number of reimbursements occurred in Vermont, where 123 people received a total of approximately $ 704,000.

The expenses covered by the FEMA program include funeral services, cremation and burial, as well as the costs of caskets or urns, burial sites or cremation niches, markers or tombstones, transportation or transfer of remains; services of clergy or officiants; and use of funeral equipment or household staff.

The program was funded with federal stimulus funds and the money remains available. No online application is allowed.

After all required documents are received and verified, it typically takes less than 30 days to determine if a person is eligible, according to FEMA. Once eligibility is confirmed, applicants requesting direct deposit can receive the money within days. It may take longer for applicants requesting a check.

The repayment is one way to help ease the emotional and financial burden the pandemic has placed on communities across the country, according to Ellen Wynn McBrayer, president of Jones-Wynn Funeral Homes & Crematory in Villa Rica, Georgia.

She remembers a woman who lost her mother, husband and one of her children to illness within six months. One of the funeral home workers also succumbed to the virus.

“Having to help a grieving family is difficult on a normal day, but seeing so many deaths,” she said. “COVID just broke a lot of hearts and took a lot of lives. “


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