If you buried a loved one over the past year that died due to COVID-19 you may be able to receive assistance from FEMA.
Over the course of the past year families have faced unparalleled loss as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to nearly 600,000 deaths throughout the nation.
Many locally have felt the brunt of COVID-19 as well. David Wolf, owner and a director of Haught Funeral Home, said in the past year they have buried 50 to 60 people that had COVID-19 as the cause of death or underlying cause of death.
He recently learned that FEMA is now offering assistance to those who had to bury a loved one due to COVID-19 and said he wants to get the word out so local families can seek reimbursement.
“It caught a lot of people totally unprepared,” Wolf said. “Plus we’re talking about funerals many weren’t expecting that took place during the pandemic when so many were out of work. They’re trying to find jobs while suddenly having to cover these funeral expenses. It was life changing in so many ways and when I heard FEMA was offering assistance for funeral expenses I wanted to make sure that local families knew they had the opportunity to get some help.”
If you paid for funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020 for someone who’s death in the U.S. was linked to COVID-19 you may be able to qualify for funeral assistance from FEMA.
If approved, the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance can be used to reimburse a variety of expenses. These include costs for transportation for up to two people 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 of producing and certifying multiple death certificates and additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances.
While any family that lost a loved one due to COVID-19 could benefit from the assistance of this program, the reality is for many the unique toll of the pandemic makes this financial aid crucial. COVID-19 swept through families, sometimes claiming the lives of multiple people within a home. Wolf said he had one family that buried three of its members in six weeks. Others — regardless of if they were burying one loved one or multiple — struggled to afford the expenses of a funeral as they recently found themselves out of work due to the pandemic. Having reimbursement available could make a massive difference in the lives of local residents.
If you did lose multiple family members due to COVID-19 you can seek reimbursement for each individual funeral. The funding offers up to $9,000 in aid per funeral and has a maximum of $35,000 per application, per state.
“This pandemic had so many layers of loss and heartbreak to it,” Wolf said. “Yes, it had the obvious impact on local families because they lost their loved ones. But we also heard stories of having to let their family die alone because it wasn’t safe for them to come into the hospital or nursing home with them. We had instances where people couldn’t come to the funeral because they had COVID themselves or where the family was having to decide which 10 people they let attend the funeral. It was just heartbreaking. I’ve been at this 35 years now and it was like nothing I have ever seen.”
Haught and the other local funeral homes, as well as funeral homes across the country quickly adapted. They live streamed services and graveside ceremonies, they extended visitations to four or five hours so that they could safely have only 10 people at a time inside while still giving the majority of the family the chance to say goodbye and they made going through the process of getting the funeral set up as safe as possible.
Wolf said now that this funding is available he hopes the word can get out to as many families as possible.
While there is not yet an exact funding cap for the Funeral Assistance, those who are seeking reimbursement through the program are encouraged to apply quickly to take advantage of the funds available now. If approved for the aid you will receive a check by mail or funds via direct deposit — a decision you will make when applying.
There are a variety of things you will need to have ready to provide to FEMA when you apply. You can find the details at fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance. Wolf said Haught Funeral Home has also printed out FAQ packets for families who have questions about applying, but aren’t comfortable navigating the FEMA website.
One of the keys to applying is having a death certificate that indicates the death was caused by, “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19 like symptoms.
To apply call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number at 844-684-6333. Applications opened on April 12. The line will be open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Multilingual services will be available.
FEMA is not offering online applications so you must call to begin the process. According to FEMA, it should only take approximately 20 minutes to go through the initial steps for the applications.
One thing to keep in mind is FEMA will not contact you before you register for assistance. There have been many reports of scammers reaching out to people claiming they were sent by FEMA to register them for their funeral assistance. Be mindful of what information you give out over the phone. FEMA has many controls in place to mitigate fraudulent activity, but if you suspect the person you are speaking to is not legitimate report it to 800-621-3362.