Many Families Aren't Applying for COVID Funeral Funds

Some are struggling with FEMA's strict documentation requirements
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2022 3:58 PM CST
Hundreds of Thousands Haven't Applied for COVID Funeral Assistance
The FEMA program reimburses families of COVID victims for funeral expenses up to $9,000.   (Getty Images/kzenon)

In March last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a program to reimburse families for funerals for loved ones who died from COVID-19. With daily deaths currently at an average of well over 2,000, it is still a benefit needed by far too many families, but it is also underused, the New York Times reports. The pandemic has killed more than 925,000 Americans but fewer than half those deaths have led to a claim for funeral benefits, according to FEMA data. The agency says it has received around 415,000 claims, and 97% of those who provided all the necessary documents have been approved. Relatives of some COVID victims, however, they have struggled with issues including obtaining the correct documentation.

Kerri Raissian, a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, tells the Times that while she understand's FEMA's need to protect against fraud, the documentation requirements are very strict. She says her father died from COVID in December but doctors failed to list it on his death certificate, and she has spent hours on the phone trying to fix the issue. "This policy all but guarantees many people who are entitled to these benefits will not get them," she says. FEMA says it is working to make the process smoother—and to make sure people are aware of the program, which reimburses families for up to $9,000 in funeral expenses. On its website, the agency says claims from after May 17, 2020, must have COVID listed as a direct or indirect cause of death on the death certificate.

FEMA says some 273,000 applicants have been paid a total of $1.78 billion, which comes from stimulus funds. According to FEMA data, there are big variations from state to state in the proportion of families reimbursed, from just 15% in Oregon and Idaho to almost 40% in North Carolina and Maryland. David Shipper, owner of a funeral home in Indiana, told NPR in December that his employees let grieving families know about the benefits and help them through the application process. He says families are much more likely to take advantage of the benefit when planning the funeral, as many find it too painful to revisit the death by applying for reimbursement later on. (More coronavirus stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.