FEMA will soon begin offering financial assistance to people who paid for the funeral expenses of someone who died from COVID-19, going back to the early days of the pandemic.
Beginning in April, the federal disaster response agency will start reimbursing people for funeral costs that occurred on or after Jan. 20, 2020 – up to $9,000 per funeral. There are cases where the virus swept through families, and people who apply for assistance for multiple deaths could receive up to $35,500, officials said.
“Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate,” acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said in a statement.
The financial weight of those costs can be “tremendous on a family,” said Jessica Rodriguez, director at Ingold Funeral & Cremation in Fontana.
“Most times people don’t have that sort of money for a service,” she said. “And if things aren’t pre-planned out, they need to handle that almost up-front.”
Even now, though the federal assistance will be helpful, people being reimbursed “have already gone through that struggle,” Rodriguez said.
When her father died from the coronavirus in January, though she had cemetery property prepared, Rodriguez said other service costs came out to “quite a bit” when added together at the end.
“So, although the reimbursement program sounds wonderful, at the time, we still needed to make it work.”
Rodriguez said she has kept a list of all the families her funeral home has provided services to for loved ones who died from COVID-19, and she plans to contact them as more details on the FEMA program are released.
In San Bernardino County, where Rodriguez’s business is located, more than 4,300 people have died from the disease, according to state data. The number of deaths are comparable in Orange and Riverside counties, which reported 4,713 and 4,132 deaths as of Monday, respectively. In Los Angeles County, more than 23,000 people have died, the state has reported.
Joe Fitzgerald, CEO of O’Connor Mortuary, which has locations in Laguna Hills, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano, said he plans to attend a virtual webinar being offered by the National Funeral Directors Association that will explain how funeral directors can help families through FEMA’s application process. So far, no families have reached out to the mortuary about the assistance, he said.
“So we haven’t had any families ask about it, but we’re prepared to provide them the information,” Fitzgerald said.
FEMA officials said it is working to establish a phone number for applicants, which will be set up in the coming weeks.
Those eligible to apply should start compiling records such as an official death certificate that shows the death occurred in the United State and attributes it to COVID-19, as well as receipts or contracts that document funeral expenses, FEMA officials said. The agency also asked applicants to start gathering any documents that show whether they received help for funeral costs from another source.
Multiple people who may have helped pay for one funeral can plan to submit one application, and those who receive the assistance will get it in the form of a check or by direct deposit, the agency said.
“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” Fenton said in the statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people.”
The pandemic has altered the way families memorialize their loved ones, and “is just creating complicated grief,” Fitzgerald said.
Because of restrictions at nursing facilities and hospitals that may have prevented family members from being with their loved one before they died, funeral homes like O’Connor Mortuary have “ended up being that kind of place where they can say their final goodbyes,” he said.
“For some families, a COVID-related death was not something they would expect, and from a financial standpoint, you’re never really prepared for something like that,” Fitzgerald said. “So you can see where this program can certainly provide assistance for most people during that time.”
Source: Orange County Register