FEMA can help cover funeral costs for people who lost loved ones to COVID-19
If your loved one has died during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible to have up to $9,000 of funeral costs, and more for multiple funerals, covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Matthew Redding, deputy director of individual assistance at FEMA, said more than 120,000 applications have been submitted so far.
FEMA has always provided funeral assistance under its “Other Needs Assistance (ONA) provision of the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) to individuals and households with disaster-related funeral expenses,” according to its website. A FEMA spokesperson said this program is one of the agency’s lesser-known benefits.
“It’s the largest program in our nation’s history,” Redding said. “FEMA has done funeral assistance in the past, but the largest one in the past had been somewhere around 2,500 people in a funeral program, and this effort pales in comparison to that number.”
Because the pandemic was declared a national emergency by President Trump on March 13, 2020, funds were made available then. With a new allocation, costs will be covered for an undetermined amount of time. Because “there is no way to predict how many COVID-related deaths may occur between now and 2025, an exact funding cap has not been established,” FEMA’s website says.
More than 60,000 Californians have died of COVID-19 as of April 21. Antoinette Lou, director of community relations and communications at Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary in Whittier, said this program will help many families.
“It’s hard to describe the feelings our families are going through,” Lou said. But it’s clear “that families want and need help”
Here’s who qualifies and how to get assistance from FEMA.
Who is eligible?
Under the American Rescue Plan Act, FEMA will provide assistance for funeral costs for deaths from COVID-19 incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a green card holder, but the deceased does not have to have had any type of documentation. The death must have occurred in the U.S. or a U.S. territory, and the deceased’s death certificate must state that they died of COVID-19 or that it was a contributing factor. If the death certificate of your loved one does not meet those criteria but you feel it should, Redding said to follow your state’s procedures for amendments before applying. Minors can apply if the documentation shows that they paid for funeral costs.
Some people and circumstances are not eligible, and each application will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
People with the following immigration statuses do not qualify:
- Temporary tourist visa holders.
- Foreign students.
- Temporary work visa holders.
- Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Costs incurred for a pre-planned funeral, even if the person died of COVID-19, are not eligible for reimbursement. These costs can include funeral insurance, prepaid funeral contracts or an irrevocable trust for Medicare.
How to apply
You must apply over the phone, by calling (844) 684-6333 between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Monday through Friday. There is no option for applying online. Redding said FEMA offers real-time translation in 42 languages.
Have these documents ready:
- The individual’s death certificate that reflects that they died directly or indirectly of COVID-19.
- Documentation of the funeral expenses incurred.
- Documentation of funds received from any other source, such as donations or funeral insurance.
Lou said that many families have reported long wait times. She encouraged patience for anyone having trouble getting through on the phone. She recommended reaching out to the funeral home you used for assistance with gathering the needed documents — but know that the funeral home cannot apply on your behalf.
Over 1 million calls were received on the first day of the program, Redding said. The centers now average 20,000 to 25,000 calls a day.
How the program works
If your application is approved, you can expect to receive funds by check or direct deposit, depending on which option you select.
In the case that multiple people helped to cover the costs of the funeral, FEMA said they will work with applicants.
Each request can include one primary and one co-applicant. Redding said that documentation is required for both applicants, and after review, the assistance will be awarded to the primary applicant to distribute to the co-applicant.
What is covered?
The program covers funeral-related costs up to $9,000 per funeral, and up to $35,500 per application, in the case that someone paid for multiple funerals.
These are the kinds of expenses that can be reimbursed, though this is not an exhaustive list:
- Transportation for those going to identify the deceased.
- The transferring of remains.
- The casket or urn.
- The burial plot or urn niche.
- The marker or headstone.
- Any clergy or officiant services.
- Arrangements by the funeral company.
- Any use of funeral home staff or equipment.
- Costs associated with cremation or interment.
- Cost of producing and certifying multiple death certificates.
- Any additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances.
Have receipts ready when you apply. Expenses unrelated to the funeral are not eligible.
Beware of scams
FEMA warned that it has received reports of people being contacted directly with offers of funeral assistance. FEMA will not contact you directly — you must call to apply for assistance. If you believe you are being scammed, Redding said to call the FEMA helpline at (800) 621-3362 or the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at (866) 720-5721.