FEMA Offering Funeral Assistance to Families of COVID-19 Victims
By: Jonathan Wolnik
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) has a mission of helping citizens during times of disaster. COVID-19 has certainly been a disaster, and its misery becomes much worse when it results in the loss of a loved one. To assist everyone during this time, pursuant to the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, FEMA is making funds available to reimburse funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. FEMA is set to begin accepting applications for this relief on Monday, April 12, 2021.
To be eligible for funds from FEMA, the decedent must have died in the United States (including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia) and their death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19. Additionally, the applicant for the FEMA funding must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien, who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020 for the decedent. Minor children cannot apply on behalf of an adult and aliens lawfully present in the U.S. are not eligible for this relief if they are temporary tourist visa holders, foreign students, or temporary work visa holders.
Those applying for FEMA funeral funds should keep records, including the decedent’s death certificate and copies of contracts with the funeral home and other receipts for expenses incurred in connection with the burial. Additionally, the applicant must provide proof of any funds received from other sources that were used to pay the decedent’s final expenses, such as insurance, charities, or other agencies, as FEMA will not provide duplicative benefits. Expense documentation should be ready and available when the applicant applies. The applicant will also need the social security number for both the applicant and decedent, dates of birth for the applicant and decedent, current contact information for the applicant, location or address where the decedent died, information about any burial or funeral policies covering the decedent, and any funding or donations received to assist with the decedent’s final expenses. Finally, if the applicant is requesting funds be paid by direct deposit, they will need to have the appropriate bank account and routing numbers.
Online and paper applications are not available. Rather, applicants must call 844.684.6333 / TTY: 800.462.7585 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern, to apply. Applications are estimated to require 20 minutes to complete, while speaking with a live FEMA representative. Once an application number is given to the applicant, supporting documentation is sent to FEMA via an online account to be created with FEMA, by fax, or by regular U.S. mail. If an application for FEMA funeral relief is approved, the applicant will be paid either by check or direct deposit. Generally, only one applicant may be paid per decedent. If families split costs associated with the funeral, FEMA is allowing one additional co-applicant to apply, but both co-applicants must use the same application number.
Expenses eligible for FEMA funds generally include all the costs associated with funeral services, burial, or cremation. Such expenses typically include transportation for two individuals to identify the decedent, transfer of the decedent’s remains, acquisition of a casket or urn, acquisition of a burial plot or cremation niche, obtaining markers or headstones, paying clergy or officiants for services, arranging the funeral ceremony, expenses paid for the funeral home equipment or staff, costs for obtaining death certificates, and any other attendant costs that may be mandated by state or local law.
FEMA is providing an excellent opportunity to assist families dealing with the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19. Those who think they may qualify can obtain additional information at FEMA’s website. Our attorneys can help guide applicants through the process as well. Please contact your MLCL attorney if we can be of service.
Jonathan Wolnik is an attorney at the Cleveland, OH-based law firm at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA.