By Victor Skinner, The Center Square contributor
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out tens of millions of dollars to Louisiana residents to cover the cost of funeral expenses tied to COVID-19.
Data released by FEMA this month shows the agency paid a total of $32.2 million to 4,677 residents to cover the funeral costs for COVID-19-related deaths since January 20, 2020.
The funeral assistance program, funded by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and American Rescue Plan Act, covers 100% of funeral expenses for COVID-19-related deaths.
The program is part of FEMA’s broader Other Needs Assistance provision of the Individuals and Households Program that helps with disaster-related funeral expenses.
“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said when the program launched in March. “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.”
FEMA has spent over $1.6 billion in awards to 247,000 people for COVID-19-related funeral expenses in all states and U.S. territories.
Texas residents received the most at more than $159 million for 24,386 funerals, followed by California with $149 million for 23,252 funerals and New York with $136 million for 19,931 funerals. The FEMA website provides a full list of payouts broken down by state.
The program is targeted to individuals who incurred funeral expenses for COVID-19-related deaths, rather than paid out through a state agency or directly to funeral homes. The program is open to U.S. citizens, noncitizen nationals or qualified aliens who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020, for a death attributed to COVID-19.
Applicants can apply for multiple deceased individuals for up to $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application, with the money “intended to assist with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation.”
“Eligible funeral service expenses include, but are not limited to: transportation for up to two individuals to identify the decedent; transfer of remains; casket or urn; burial plot or cremation niche; marker or headstone; clergy or officiant services; arrangement of the funeral ceremony; use of funeral home equipment or staff; interment; costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates; and additional expenses mandated by any applicable state or local government laws or ordinances,” according to FEMA policy.
Funeral expenses must not be covered by other sources, such as funeral or burial insurance, or financial assistance from other agencies or government programs. Those who apply must submit documentation on the cause of death to FEMA.
Applicants must submit a death certificate, proof of funeral expenses and any insurance or other funeral benefits.
Death certificates indicating “the death ‘may have been caused by’ or ‘was likely a result of COVID-19’ or ‘COVID-19 like symptoms’ and similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution,” according to the policy guidance.
Death certificates that do not include reference to COVID-19 also are eligible if accompanied by a signed statement from a certifying official that “provide an additional explanation, or causal pathway, linking the cause of death on the death certificate with COVID-19.”