US funeral assistance for COVID tops $2B, more eligible

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government has provided more than $2 billion to help cover funeral costs for more than 300,000 families of people who died from COVID-19, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Tuesday as it launches a new campaign to raise awareness about the aid to eligible families. More than 965,000 people have died in the US from the virus.

The COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program provides up to $9,000 per funeral and covers COVID-19 related deaths since Jan. 20, 2020. The average amount awarded per death is $6,500, according to FEMA.

“FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program has helped provide over 300,000 people with critical financial relief during a time of such unexpected, unimaginable and widespread loss,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in a statement.

On Tuesday, the agency is launching a new paid ad campaign in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas targeted at areas with large rates of COVID-19 deaths but lower rates of reimbursement requests to help connect people to available assistance. The agency is also reaching out to community groups and local media outlets to help publicize the program.

“Our new outreach campaign is designed to reach families, especially across underserved communities, where the cost of a funeral can be a financial burden to a loved one,” said Criswell. ”Our goal is to help families apply for assistance, as well as submit all required documents for existing applications.”

To be eligible for reimbursement, death certificates for those who died after May 16, 2020, must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19.

For deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic—from Jan. 20 to May 16, 2020 — death certificates must be accompanied with a signed statement from a medical examiner, coroner or the certifying official listed on the certificate indicating that COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing cause of death.

Expenses covered under the FEMA program include funeral services, cremation and interment, as well as the costs for caskets or urns, burial plots or cremation niches, markers or headstones, transportation or transfer of remains, clergy or officiating services, and the use of funeral home equipment or staff.

The program was first signed into law in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration but began accepting applications weeks into President Joe Biden’s term. The initial bill provided $2 billion for the funeral assistance, which was exhausted in recent days. Funding going forward will come from Biden’s 2021 relief bill known as the “American Rescue Plan.”

FEMA is not accepting online applications for the reimbursement program. People eligible are directed to call the agency’s helpline 844-684-6333 where they will be prompted to submit the required documentation.

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Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed.

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