Americans who’ve lost family members or friends from COVID-19 can now apply to get up to $9,000 from the government to reimburse them for their loved one’s funeral costs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Monday opened its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number to pay back funeral expenses for COVID-19 deaths dating back to Jan. 20, 2020. Already on the first day, the agency noted it was “experiencing high call volume” that was leading to “technical issues.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people,” said acting FEMA administrator Bob Fenton in a press release. “Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pushed for this retroactive assistance since the pandemic’s onset in March 2020. The $50 billion in total funding was included in December’s $900 billion relief deal and this year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
"No family should go into debt because they need to bury a loved one, especially during this pandemic," Schumer tweeted in February when the assistance was introduced. "I’m glad @AOC brought this to my attention last year and I’m proud to have worked together to give relief to thousands of families hurting right now."
Who is eligible?
U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals can apply on behalf of several deceased family members, including undocumented people. If funeral expenses were split among several individuals, FEMA suggests one person apply as an applicant and another as a co-applicant.
Those who are not eligible include:
Temporary tourist visa holders
Temporary work visa holders
Habitual residents such as citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
What is the reimbursement amount?
The maximum benefit is $9,000 per funeral service, internment, or cremation, and $35,500 per applicant for costs related to multiple deaths. If the agency deems you eligible, you can opt for funds to be disbursed via a mailed check or direct deposit.
What expenses are covered?
The assistance generally covers expenses related to funeral services and interment or cremation. These include, but are not limited to the following:
Transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased individual
Transfer of remains
Casket or urn
Burial plot or cremation niche
Marker or headstone
Clergy or officiant services
Arrangement of the funeral ceremony
Use of funeral home equipment or staff
Cremation or interment costs
Costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates
Any other expenses required by local or state government laws
How to apply
Applications are taken by phone only. Applicants can call the dedicated COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number at 844-684-6333 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) weekdays between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time.
Applicants are encouraged to gather the following documents as proof.
An official death certificate that occurred in the United States or territory and attributes the primary cause of death to COVID-19. For families who lost a loved one early on in the pandemic and COVID-19 was not listed as the cause of death, the death certificate can be amended and corrected by the hospital.
Funeral expense documents such as dated and itemized receipts and funeral home contract with the applicant’s name and corresponding deceased loved one’s name.
Funding benefits will not cover or replace funeral costs received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/state/local/tribal/territorial government programs or agencies, or other sources.
The agency expects the application process to take 20 minutes by phone.
“We will not rush through calls because we intend to make sure every applicant gets their questions answered and receives the help they need to apply,” the FEMA website said.