Starting April 12, families who lost a loved one due to COVID-19 after Jan. 20, 2020 will be able to apply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for reimbursement of documented funeral expenses up to $9,000.
To be eligible to apply for FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program, an applicant must be a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses on or after Jan. 21, 2020 for someone whose official, government-issued death certificate attributes the cause of death directly or indirectly to COVID-19.
Only one application is permitted per decedent, so if multiple individuals contributed toward a decedent’s funeral expenses then they need to apply together to FEMA as applicant and co-applicant. Otherwise, the first applicant who submits all required documentation for that decedent will be awarded the assistance.
While there are restrictions as to who can apply, there is no requirement that the deceased person was a U.S. citizen – only that the COVID-19 related death occurred in the U.S., including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
In addition, tribal members may apply for assistance under the applicable state or territory COVID-19 disaster declaration without need for an agreement between FEMA and the tribal government.
The current plan is for all FEMA funeral assistance claims to be made by phone or teletypewriter starting April 12; no online applications are planned at this time. In the meantime, FEMA is encouraging families to gather documentation that will be needed to apply for assistance.
Such documents include receipts and contracts showing the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened, as well as an official death certificate.
Eligible funeral service expenses include, but are not limited to, transportation required to identify the decedent; transfer of remains; a casket, urn, burial plot, cremation niche, marker, headstone, and interment; clergy or officiant services; specific types of funeral home expenses; costs of obtaining certified death certificates; and additional expenses mandated by an applicable local or state government’s laws or ordinances.
FEMA cautions applicants to not seek reimbursement of funeral costs which were covered by burial or funeral insurance, or by financial assistance earmarked for funeral expenses which was received from government entities, voluntary agencies, and other sources.
Life insurance proceeds, death gratuities, or other assistance not specifically intended to defray funeral costs are not considered by FEMA as a duplication of benefit, according to the agency’s website.
Knowingly applying for or receiving benefits for expenses already reimbursed or paid by others can result in a criminal investigation.
Funding for FEMA’s program is the result of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. If an applicant is approved for funeral assistance they will either receive a check by mail or have the funds direct deposited, based on the applicant’s choice.
While news of the Funeral Assistance Program will be a relief to thousands of families, FEMA is cautioning the public to be on the lookout for scammers.
A number of people have already been contacted by callers claiming to be from FEMA or offering to register a family for funeral assistance. But FEMA says controls have been in place to mitigate fraudulent activity.
“FEMA will not contact anyone until they have called FEMA or have applied for assistance,” according to the FEMA website. “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.”
A call to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 can assist in verifying if a FEMA representative is legitimate.
Updated information about the April 12 rollout of the funeral assistance program can be found at https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance