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Federal funeral assistance for COVID victims slow to arrive

The federal government is helping families pay for funeral expenses of coronavirus victims, but only two percent of Texas families who applied got reimbursed.

SAN ANTONIO — Many Texans lost loved one during the pandemic because of the coronavirus. Unexpected funeral costs can be a burden for them. The federal government is helping families with those costs, but families are finding they are slow in getting reimbursed.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reports more than 50, 500 Texans died so far from the coronavirus.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is offering families up to $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,000 per application per state, territory, or the District of Columbia if more than one family member died for coronavirus deaths after January 20, 2020. So far, 15,635 Texans applied for funds to help cover funeral costs. So far, 318 received reimbursement. KENS 5 reached to FEMA to find out why only two percent were reimbursed. FEMA sent this statement: 

“The process can take some time. Applicants should know we are working on providing reimbursement for eligible applicants with properly documented and eligible expenses as quickly as possible. In many cases, applicants do not have the necessary documentation when they initiate their claim, which can impact the timeline for those applications.”

FEMA notes the death certificate must state the death was because of COVID-19. In some cases, that might mean the death certificate needs to be amended. That can be done, but it can be a lengthy process itself because the family needs to present the person who certified the death with evidence the death was coronavirus related.

FEMA said there is no deadline yet to apply for funeral assistance.

You must call FEMA to start an application for funeral assistance. The Helpline is 844-648-6333 or TTY is 800-462-7585. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time. Multilingual services are available in 40 languages. It takes about 20 minutes to apply. No online applications will be accepted. Funeral homes cannot apply on behalf of a family.

You must meet these conditions to be eligible for funeral assistance:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020.
  • There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.

The following people are not eligible to apply for funeral assistance:

  • A minor child cannot apply on behalf of an adult who is not a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.
  • There are several categories of aliens lawfully present in the U.S. who are not eligible for FEMA’s Individual and Households Program assistance, including funeral assistance. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Temporary tourist visa holders
  • Foreign students
  • Temporary work visa holders
  • Habitual residents such as citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

These expenses are covered:

  • Transportation for up to two individuals 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 associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates
  • Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances

You will need documentation of your loved one’s death and expense. Documentation should include:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
  • Funeral expenses documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that includes the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA will not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies, or other sources.

Once you apply and have an application number, provide your documentation in these ways:

  • Upload to your DisasterAssistance.gov account
  • Fax documents: 855-261-3452
  • Mail documents: P.O. BOX 10001, Hyattsville, MD 20782

The application is processed once all of the documentation is received by FEMA. FEMA is giving applicants additional time over the normal 90-day window to submit documents knowing that death certificates and amendments to them might require more time. Applicants have up to six months to provide documentation. Once expenses are approved, FEMA will send the applicant a check in the mail or transfer funds by direct deposit depending on the option you choose when you apply for assistance.

Find out more at FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance site.