The Community Connection
COVID-19 funeral costs reimbursed
Federal government finalizes reimbursement plan
Families whose loved ones died of COVID will be able to apply for up to $9,000 in federal reimbursement of funeral costs, according to an updated plan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA recently announced it would provide money to cover funeral expenses for COVID victims incurred after Jan. 20, 2020, and said those reimbursements would begin in April, but did not mention how much money would be available to families.
Funeral assistance is intended to assist with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation, officials said.
The program was approved under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and is consistent with FEMA’s efforts to help those hurt by emergencies, the agency has said.
“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” said acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton. “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.”
The policy was finalized Wednesday and FEMA is now moving rapidly to implement the program nationwide, officials said.
Joseph Giles of the Milkins Trymbiski Funeral Home in Temple, said the reimbursements will be helpful to the many Berks families who lost someone to COVID.
“Funerals certainly aren’t inexpensive, and with health costs this policy certainly could be a shot in the arm for many bereaved families,” Giles said.
He advised families to contact the funeral director that handled the services for help in getting the necessary documentation and applying.
The state has recorded the COVID deaths of more
than 900 Berks residents.
To be eligible for COVID-19 funeral assistance, the policy states:
• The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified undocumented immigrant who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, for a death attributed to COVID-19.
• If multiple individuals contributed toward funeral expenses, they should apply under a single application as applicant and coapplicant. FEMA will also consider documentation from other individuals not listed as the applicant and co-applicant who may have incurred funeral expenses as part of the registration for the deceased individual.
• An applicant may apply for multiple deceased individuals.
• The COVID-19-related death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
The policy states that assistance is limited to a maximum financial amount of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application, but does not make clear if that means an application with multiple decedents listed. FEMA did not respond to a request for clarification.
In the coming weeks, a dedicated toll-free phone number is planned to open to help individuals who apply. In the meantime, potential applicants are encouraged to start gathering the following documentation:
• An official death certificate that attributes the death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States. The death certificate must indicate the death “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution.
• Funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant’s name, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses and dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
• Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. Funeral assistance may not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/ state/local/tribal/territorial government programs or agencies, or other sources.
Kathleen Ryan, executive director and counsel of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors’ Association, said FEMA’s latest information doesn’t mention funeral trusts, which many families have in place to prepay their expenses. The association is trying to get more details on that, she said.
Ronald Klee, director of the Klee Funeral Home in Shillington, said families should take note that the payment will be based on actual expenses, not a flat amount.
He anticipates some families who’ve lost loved ones to other sudden causes over the last year may feel they’re being left out, but said he admires the program’s intent of assisting those hurt by the pandemic.
“I think it’s wonderful for people who were caught by surprise and put in a position they weren’t ready for either emotionally or financially,” he said. “It’s been a tragedy, and it’s good that the government is stepping up to help people.”