IEM Insights: Federal Assistance NOW Available for COVID-19 Funeral Costs

Federal Assistance NOW Available for COVID-19 Funeral CostsAs families and friends continue to cope with the sorrow, grief, and heart-breaking loss of loved ones to COVID-19, some federal financial relief is now available for funeral costs.

Two federal funding bills[1] authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide financial assistance for COVID-19 funeral expenses. The initial appropriation to FEMA for COVID-19 funeral costs allotted $2 billion for the program, with additional funds available from the American Rescue Plan per Congressional direction.

FEMA will cover documented funeral costs up to $9,000 per funeral[2]. This funeral financial assistance is intended for COVID-19 funeral services and internment or cremation. With an average U.S. funeral cost of $7,700[3], FEMA payments will quickly be allocated. However, given the total available funds, all eligible and conforming claims should not be delayed due to lack of funding. The table below shows the estimated distribution of the initial $2 billion appropriation by State for program applicants based on the number of COVID-19 deaths per state as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The conditions and requirements for this financial assistance are outlined below, and are highlighted on FEMA’s “COVID-19 Funeral Assistance” website, as is its just-released guidance of March 24, 2021. It is clear that FEMA worked to streamline the process knowing that those who experienced the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 should not have to struggle to receive authorized funeral costs assistance. FEMA also notes that they will be establishing a dedicated toll-free phone number for the program applicants to address any questions or concerns.

Eligibility

An applicant, a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien, seeking funeral financial reimbursement assistance for a loved one’s death from COVID-19 must show that:

  1. the applicant is a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred COVID-19 funeral expenses after January 20, 2020[4];
  2. the death must have occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories and the District of Columbia;
  3. the death certificate must attribute the death to COVID-19 (e.g., “may have been caused by”, or “was likely the result of COVID-19 or COVID-19 like symptoms” or similar phases), and if it does not appropriately do this, then applicants should get a correctly updated death certificate issued before contacting FEMA;
  4. the funeral expenses must have been incurred after January 20, 2020, and were not covered (duplicated) by another source, including, for example, burial or funeral insurance or from a voluntary agency, government agency, or similar organization; and
  5. the expense was an eligible funeral expense, including:
    1. Transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased individual;
    2. Transfer of remains;
    3. Casket or urn;
    4. Burial plot or cremation niche;
    5. Marker or headstone;
    6. Clergy or officiant services;
    7. Arrangement of the funeral ceremony;
    8. Use of funeral home equipment or staff;
    9. Cremation or interment costs;
    10. Costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates; and
    11. Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances.

To apply eligible applicants should…

  1. Gather the necessary documentation:
    1. Official death certificate that meets the eligibility requirements listed above.
    2. Funeral expense documents (e.g., receipts, funeral home contract) that show the applicant’s name, the name of the deceased, the amount of funeral expenses, and the date(s) of the funeral expenses
    3. Documentation showing any funds received for these funeral expenses, including for example, burial or funeral insurance, and financial assistance received from any other sources. FEMA cannot duplicate funeral assistance of this kind already received.
  2. Call the dedicated toll-free number (once published by FEMA) to apply. Applicants may request for multiple deceased individuals under one application, up to a total of $35,500 per applicant.

Finally, for eligible COVID-related funeral costs, FEMA is covering 100% of eligible costs with conditions consistent with the COVID supplemental appropriations. For non-COVID disasters, funeral costs are eligible for reimbursement under FEMA’s Individual Assistance’s Other Needs Assistance (ONA) Program (ONA), including the cost of a casket, mortuary services, burial plot, interment or cremation, and other related expenses. However, FEMA would only reimburse 75% of eligible costs in these events.

For further details, please see FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQs.

Based on the Initial $2 billion Appropriated for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance & CDC-reported Deaths*

Estimated Amount per State for Requests** ($ in millions)

Alabama $37.7Montana $5.8
Alaska $1.1Nebraska $10.3
Arizona $57.0Nevada $20.0
Arkansas $21.6New Hampshire $4.7
California $223.7New Jersey $84.2
Colorado $23.5New Mexico $13.9
Connecticut $28.6New York $189.3
Delaware $5.1North Carolina $22.7
DC $4.9North Dakota $6.2
Florida $115.5Ohio $78.1
Georgia $60.0Oklahoma $29.4
Hawaii $1.6Oregon $8.2
Idaho $7.3Pennsylvania $96.0
Illinois $76.8Puerto Rico $7.4
Indiana $44.7Rhode Island $9.5
Iowa $21.9South Carolina $30.3
Kansas $17.9South Dakota $7.5
Kentucky $24.9Tennessee $44.4
Louisiana $33.5Texas $185.8
Maine $3.1Utah $8.5
Maryland $34.5Vermont $0.8
Massachusetts $48.1Virginia $36.8
Michigan $55.8Washington $18.3
Minnesota $26.5West Virginia $9.4
Mississippi $26.5Wisconsin $29.4
Missouri $39.0Wyoming $2.3
* https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm (date through 3/21/21)

** including DC and Puerto Rico

Insights By
Edward Johnson
, IEM’s Senior Advisor for Homeland Security and Emergency Management; former FEMA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff
Elizabeth Zimmerman, IEM’s Senior Executive Advisor; former FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery and Director of Disaster Operations; former FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery and Director of Disaster Operations

[1] Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (Division M of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021) and the American Rescue Plan Act, 2021.

[2] A maximum of $35,500 per applicant.

[3] https://nfda.org/news/statistics

[4] If multiple individuals contributed to the funeral costs, a single application should be submitted as applicant and co-applicant(s), for which FEMA will consider documentation from other individuals not listed as the applicant and co-applicant who may have incurred funeral expenses for the deceased.