How to get underused COVID Funeral Assistance funds

By JIM MILLER

DEAR SENIOR SAVVY: I recently saw a news segment on television about a government funeral assistance program available to families who lost loved ones during the pandemic. What can you tell me about this? I lost my 78 year old mother to COVID in 2021 and want to know if I am still eligible for burial funds and if so what do I need to do to get them?

Still sad

DEAR SAD: I am very sorry for the loss of your mother. The government program you are asking about is the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA). This program is part of the American Rescue Plan, a stimulus package approved in 2021 in an effort to help the country manage financially in the midst of the pandemic.

This program, which has no end date, offers up to $9,000 to cover the cost of a funeral for someone who has died of COVID-19 since January 2020.

Unfortunately, less than half of the people thought to be eligible for funeral assistance have applied. Here’s what you need to know about the program requirements and how to apply.

Where to start?

To apply for COVID-19 funeral assistance, you must do so by phone by calling FEMA at 844-684-6333, anytime Monday through Friday, 9 am to 9 pm Eastern Time. The application process takes about 20 minutes.

After you apply, FEMA will provide you with an application number, which you can use to create an online account at DisasterAssistance.gov if you wish.

You will then need to submit supporting documents, including a death certificate for your mother, but must state that her death “may have been caused by” or “likely resulted from” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Her death must also have occurred in the US on or after January 20, 2020.

If you don’t have this, you won’t be eligible.

You will also need to provide proof of funeral expenses, such as itemized receipts, bills, or funeral contracts.

These supporting documents can be submitted online (through your DisasterAssistance.gov account), by mail (PO Box 10001, Hyattsville, MD 20782), or by fax (855-261-3452).

After receiving the documentation, FEMA takes about 45 days to make an eligibility decision.

Families who had multiple deaths due to the coronavirus can also apply. A family can receive up to $35,000 for multiple funerals.

Reimbursements can be used to cover any portion of funeral expenses, including burial plots, caskets, body preparation, cremation, urns, clergy, utilities, and headstones, as well as costs related to state or local ordinances and the production of death certificates.

But keep in mind that funerals paid for in advance are not eligible for reimbursement. Any payment made specifically for a funeral prior to death is considered a duplication and is not eligible.

If FEMA approves your application, the funds will be deposited into your bank account or mailed via check, usually within days of approval.

However, if you receive a letter from FEMA saying you are not eligible, or the amount awarded is not enough, you have the right to appeal within 60 days of FEMA’s decision letter.

For more information about the COVID funeral assistance program, visit FEMA.gov/disaster/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and the author of the book “The Savvy Senior.”

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