On Monday, April 12, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began accepting and processing applications for $2 billion in funeral assistance for COVID-19 victims as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package recently passed by Congress.
According to FEMA, they will provide funeral assistance for expenses incurred after January 20, 2020, for deaths that are related to the coronavirus. Acting FEMA Director, Bob Fenton, stated, "At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during, and after disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."
Who Can and Cannot Apply?
According to FEMA, if you fit into the following categories, you may apply for funeral aid:
You are a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who paid for funeral expenses after January 20, 2020, and;
The funeral expenses were for an individual whose death in the United States, territories or the District of Columbia, may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19.
However, if you fit into these categories, you cannot apply:
A minor child cannot apply on behalf of an adult who is not a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.
There are several categories of aliens lawfully present in the U.S. who are not eligible for FEMA’s Individual and Households Program assistance, including funeral assistance. These include, but are not limited to:
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 Expenses Are Covered?
According to the FEMA site, COVID-19 Funeral Assistance will assist with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation. Any receipts received for expenses that are not related to funeral services will not be determined eligible expenses.
Expenses for funeral services and internment or cremation typically include, but are not limited to:
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
Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances
More Than One Funeral Occurred
In some cases, more than one family member died from COVID, or an individual paid for more than one funeral for COVID victims. In these cases, is it possible to get assistance for every funeral? FEMA says yes.
According to the agency, applicants may receive assistance for the funeral expenses of multiple deceased individuals. Assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application per state, territory, or the District of Columbia.
What if More Than One Person Paid for the Funeral?
According to the website, FEMA will generally only provide COVID-19 Funeral Assistance to one applicant per deceased individual.
To be approved for reimbursement of funeral expenses due to a COVID-19 fatality, you must have incurred funeral expenses for the deceased individual and have documentation (receipts, funeral home contracts, etc.) showing your name as the responsible party.
[FEMA] recognizes that multiple individuals may have contributed to funeral expenses for one deceased individual. FEMA will work with applicants in these situations and those who submit multiple receipts for funeral expenses when their name does not appear on the receipt.
If more than one individual contributed toward funeral expenses, they must register with FEMA under the same application as the applicant and co-applicant, or the first applicant that submits all required documentation will be awarded COVID-19 Funeral Assistance for the deceased individual. No more than one co-applicant can be included on an application.
If a minor child directly incurred funeral expenses for a COVID-19-related death and the documentation supports that payment, the minor child’s application could be reviewed for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance.
After reading the legislation, we had questions about pre-paid funerals, so we reached out to Attorney Connelly for an answer. "Many people have paid ahead for funerals for a variety of reasons, which made sense and continues to make sense," said Connelly. "Unfortunately, the legislation is clear when it comes to reimbursement in the case of a COVID death. The language reads, 'Any source of payment designated specifically to pay for a funeral in anticipation of a future death cannot be reimbursed under this assistance. This includes burial or funeral insurance, a pre-paid funeral contract, a pre-paid trust for funeral expenses, or an irrevocable trust for Medicare'."
How Do You Apply?
FEMA has listed the below contact information for those who are interested in applying.
Making the Call
According to FEMA, once you call, it should take about 20 minutes to apply. FEMA officials stated that they "will not rush through calls because they intend to make sure every applicant gets their questions answered and receives the help they need to apply."
FEMA says it is important to gather all necessary information and documentation before applying for assistance. This will help them take the application and process it in a timely manner.
Information and Documentation Needed Before Calling
The applicant responsible for COVID-19 funeral expenses will need to provide the following information below when they call FEMA to register for assistance. We recommend gathering this information now as we prepare to open the application process.
Social Security number for the applicant and the deceased individual
Date of birth for the applicant and the deceased individual
Current mailing address for the applicant
The current telephone number for the applicant
Location or address where the deceased individual passed away
Information about burial or funeral insurance policies
Information about other funeral assistance received, such as donations
CARES Act grants and assistance from voluntary organizations
Routing and account number of the applicant’s checking or savings account (for direct deposit, if requested)
You must provide a copy of the death certificate, proof of funeral expenses incurred, and proof of assistance received from any other source.
The death certificate must indicate the death was caused by, “may have been caused by” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution.
The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, or the District of Columbia.
COVID-19 Funeral Assistance is not available for the funeral expenses of U.S. citizens who died outside the United States.
Documentation for expenses (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) must include the applicant’s name as the person responsible for the expense, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and that funeral expenses were incurred after January 20, 2020.
The applicant must also provide FEMA with proof of funds received from other sources specifically used for funeral costs. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance may not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance or financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government programs or agencies, or other sources. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance will be reduced by the amount of other assistance the applicant received for the same expenses.
Life insurance proceeds are not considered a duplication of Funeral Assistance benefits.
Amending a Death Certificate
It is possible to change or amend a death certificate. This process starts with contacting the person who certified the death. This may be a treating doctor, a coroner, or a medical examiner, and their name and address are on the death certificate. Applicants may present evidence to them to support the claim the death was attributable to COVID-19.
Where to Send Documents
Once you have applied and are given an application number, you may provide supporting documentation to FEMA in the following ways:
Upload to your DisasterAssistance.gov account
Fax documents: 855-261-3452.
Mail documents: P.O. BOX 10001, Hyattsville, MD 20782
Beware of Scams
As with all programs that involve money, scammers are just a phone call or mouse click away. FEMA states the following;
FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program has controls in place to mitigate fraudulent activity. FEMA will not contact anyone until they have called FEMA or have applied for assistance. Do not disclose information such as the name, birth date, or social security number of any deceased family member to any unsolicited telephone calls or e-mails from anyone claiming to be a federal employee or from FEMA.
Expect to Wait
When our offices tried to call the hotline, there were thousands in the queue ahead of us. When we attempted a second call, the line appeared to be down. When we went to the FEMA website, the following was posted:
If you qualify for this assistance, be patient. As FEMA indicates, there is currently no deadline for applying.