With the nation over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are looking for relief. While many have fought for financial assistance for families who lost work or business, this isn’t the only focus. Some politicians are pushing for funding specifically to help families who have paid for coronavirus funerals.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act?
- FEMA’s Role in COVID Funeral Relief
- What Funeral Costs Will FEMA Cover?
- How to Get FEMA Funeral Assistance
Funerals, while often overlooked, are no small cost. The average funeral in the United States costs families between $7,000 and $12,000. For families who lost loved ones in the COVID-19 pandemic, these costs were sudden and unexpected. Many funeral homes struggled to accommodate the growing number of clients, and this meant hard decisions had to be made.
Led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, this new COVID funeral reimbursement relief package means FEMA will reimburse up to $2 billion in costs for coronavirus funerals. There are many things to know about this reimbursement package, how it works, and who will qualify for FEMA funding.
Note: This article was updated in April 2021 to reflect the latest FEMA updates.
What Is the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act?
First, let’s explain what this relief package is and how it works. Sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Barbara Lee in May 2020, this bill is formally called the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act. In the bill, $10,000 payments were to be made to families to cover funeral costs associated with COVID-19.
After its introduction, the bill faced many stalls and challenges. Under the Trump administration, there were many barriers to passing progressive COVID financial relief. Finally, the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act was included as part of the federal COVID relief package signed by former President Donald Trump in December 2020.
As of April 2021, a plan was set in place to implement this relief effort. The latest updates can be found on FEMA's Funeral Relief FAQ page.
FEMA’s Role in COVID Funeral Relief
Unfortunately, FEMA’s representatives have reported that the agency is in a difficult position with this relief package. Throughout 2020, all 50 states received assistance from FEMA for the pandemic. The agency is worried about providing funeral assistance on such a large scale.
This isn’t the first time FEMA has helped with funeral efforts after an emergency. In 2005, FEMA reimbursed families for funeral costs associated with Hurricane Katrina. Later, FEMA did the same for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
In 2017 alone, FEMA paid $2.6 million towards 976 applications for funeral expenses after 3 different hurricanes. This equals an average of $2,700 in government aid for each family’s request.
While these numbers are impressive, FEMA has never tackled a challenge quite like this. The agency already used $56.2 billion to fight against COVID-19, so allocating extra funds is a new obstacle. The agency is still working on the specifics, and it is likely to be a while before families are invited to apply for funeral relief.
What Funeral Costs Will FEMA Cover?
As of February 8, 2020, a FEMA representative shared the following statement:
“If you are a family who couldn't afford or had to just stretch, went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed...from FEMA.”
This funding will be available to pay for funeral costs that were incurred between January 20, 2020, and December 31, 2020. As of February 2021, this FEMA relief package will not cover funerals that took place in 2021. Assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,000 per application per state (ie. if you assisted with the funerals for more than one individual).
FEMA’s existing Disaster Funeral Assistance program helps with the cost of unexpected and uninsured expenses associated with the funeral or burial. Eligible expenses include:
- Transportation for up to 2 individuals to identify the deceased
- Casket or urn
- Mortuary services
- Transportation of the deceased
- Two death certificates
- Burial plot or cremation niche
- Interment or cremation
- Cost of reinterment
- Marker or headstone
- Clergy or officiant services
- Death certificate costs
- Additional expenses mandated under local laws
If you held a virtual funeral in 2020 due to travel restrictions and social distancing, you can still apply for funeral cost reimbursement. The bill may not cover the actual costs of a virtual funeral, but it may still cover the significant cost of burial, the casket, and the other expenses mentioned above.
If you need to plan a virtual funeral in the future, we recommend using a service like GatheringUs that can help bring your loved ones together virtually.
Just how much FEMA will cover particularly for this pandemic is still in the works, but it’s likely to follow the same protocol as previous disasters. Keeping accurate track of your loved one’s expenses is the best way to stay prepared for any relief package.
How to Get FEMA Funeral Assistance
How do you access this FEMA funeral assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic if you need it? As of April 2021, FEMA will begin taking applications for funeral reimbursement starting April 12, 2021. Applicants should call the FEMA hotline at (844) 684-6333 to determine if they qualify.
In the past, families needed to submit an application to apply for assistance. This application needs key supporting documents to get approved. According to FEMA’s Disaster Funeral Assistance Program, these are:
- Death certificate for the deceased
- Documentation from an authority (physician, coroner, etc.) that attributes the death to the disaster (ie. death from COVID complications)
- Proof that the applicant is the next-of-kin as defined by the state authority
- Confirmation that funeral expenses have not been paid for by another resource (Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits would be subtracted, for example)
- Evidence of unpaid or unmet funeral expense
- If you received funds from other sources, you need documentation for these
In other words, the family needs to prove their relationship to the deceased as well as that the death was due to the pandemic or related complications. It is vital that you keep clear records and documentation about any funeral costs.
Get the COVID-19 Relief You Need
Funeral costs can be quite a surprise to families already in crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families had to make difficult decisions and work tirelessly to make final arrangements for their loved ones. For those who couldn’t say goodbye in person or who lost a loved one suddenly, this is a heavy burden to bear.
This COVID-19 Funeral Package is a welcome sigh of relief for the families who have been affected by the virus. Though it won’t lessen their grief, it does help ease the financial strain on already struggling families. This program is being implemented in 2021 to gives families much-needed peace of mind.
- “Disaster Funeral Assistance.” FEMA Fact Sheet. FEMA.gov.
- “FEMA Supports Vaccine Distribution: COVID-19 Response Update.” FEMA. 25 January 2021. FEMA.gov.
- Gibson, Kate. “Stimulus includes $2 billion for funerals of COVID-19 victims. Will families get money?” CBS News. 22 December 2020. CBSNews.com.
- “H.R.6828 — 116th Congress (2019-2020).” Congress Legislation: Emergency Management. 12 May 2020. Congress.gov.
- Rayome, Alison DeNisco. “$7,000 reimbursement for COVID-19 funerals: Who it's for, how to apply and other details.” CNET Personal FInance. 9 February 2021. Cnet.com.