Families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 last year will soon be able to apply for reimbursement of their funeral costs through a new federal assistance program.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday said it will provide up to $9,000 per funeral, with people who lost multiple family members to COVID-19 eligible to apply for up to $35,000.

The funds can help cover funeral services, including interment and cremation, for people who died from COVID-19 between Jan. 20, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020. Florida alone ended 2020 with a total of 21,990 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths. Program applications are expected to become available in early April.

"At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters," said Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton in a news release. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."

The program is part of the $900 billion relief bill passed by Congress in December, which set aside $2 billion dollars for FEMA to reimburse funeral expenses for COVID-19 related deaths between Jan. 20, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020. According to the mandate, the government should cover 100% of the funeral costs, CBS News reports.

FEMA is still setting up the application process. In the meantime, it recommends people begin gathering the required documentation to make the process easier when it's time to apply.

Here's what to know:

Who is eligible to apply for FEMA's COVID funeral expenses program?

Anyone who is a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or "qualified alien" who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020 for a death that may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19. FEMA says "qualified aliens" includes anyone with lawful permanent residence, such as a green card holder.

FEMA says there is no requirement for the person who died to have been a U.S. citizen. However, the death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Their death certificate must indicate it was attributed to COVID-19 (more on this later).

I paid funeral expenses for more than one person whose death was attributed to COVID-19. Can I apply for additional assistance?

Yes. FEMA says you can make more than one application for assistance if you paid for more than one funeral. Remember, while FEMA may pay up to $9,000 per funeral, the maximum total an applicant may receive is $35,000.

Someone else helped me pay for funeral expenses. Are they eligible too?

Yes, but it's a bit complicated.

FEMA says it will generally only provide aid to one applicant per COVID death who can show they were responsible for funeral expenses. However, sometimes more than one person pays for funeral services.

If you're in this situation, FEMA says you should register under the same application as "applicant and "co-applicant." If you don't, only the first person who submits all required documentation will be eligible for assistance. No more than one "co-applicant" can be included in the application.

What does FEMA's COVID funeral assistance program cover?

The program reimburses costs related to funeral expenses. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Transportation for up to two people to identify the deceased individual
  • Transfer of remains
  • Casket or urn
  • Burial plot or cremation niche
  • Marker or headstone
  • Clergy or officiant services and arrangement of the funeral ceremony
  • Use of funeral home equipment or staff
  • Cremation or interment costs

I want to apply for FEMA's COVID-19 funeral expenses aid. What info do I need to provide and what proof do I need to show?

Some of the information applicants need to provide include their date of birth, social security number, address, and phone number. For direct depot, you will also need to provide your routing and account number.

Applicants will also need to provide the date of birth and social security number of the person who died and the address of where they died. Proof you'll need to show include:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States. FEMA says the certificate must indicate the death "may have been caused by" or "was likely the result of" COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. "Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution," FEMA said.
  • Funeral expense documents, such as receipts and a funeral home contract. These documents should include the applicant's name, the deceased individual's name, the amount of funeral expenses and the dates in which the costs occurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically used for funeral costs. FEMA's funeral assistance will not reimburse costs that were already covered by other aid, including burial or funeral insurance, donations, or financial assistance received from other agencies, organizations or government programs.

It's worth noting that FEMA does not consider life insurance proceeds to be funeral assistance aid.

How to apply for FEMA COVID deaths funeral assistance? Deadline?

You'll apply by phone and once you receive an application number, you'll upload the required documents online at DisasterAssistance.gov. You'll also have the option of faxing or mailing the documents.

FEMA says it's still in the process of setting up the toll-free phone number you will need to call. The agency expects it will become available in April. The program also doesn't have a deadline set up yet, though this may change in the future.

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