Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently saw a news segment on TV 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 find out if I’m still eligible for any funeral funds, and if so, what I need to do to get them.
I’m very sorry about 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 passed in 2021 in an effort to help the country financially manage amid the pandemic.
This program, which has no end date, offers up to $9,000 to cover the cost of a funeral for someone who died of COVID-19 as far back as January 2020.
Unfortunately, less than half the people believed eligible for funeral assistance have actually applied for it. Here’s what you should know about the program’s requirements and how to apply.
Where to Start?
To apply for COVID-19 funeral assistance, you must do it over the phone by calling FEMA at 844-684-6333, anytime Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. The application process takes about 20 minutes.
After you apply, FEMA will provide you an application number, which you may use to create an online account at DisasterAssistance.gov if you choose.
You will then need to submit supporting documents, including a death certificate for your mother, but it must state that her death “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Her death must also have occurred in the U.S. on or after Jan. 20, 2020. If you don’t have this, you won’t be eligible.
You’ll also need to submit proof of funeral expenses, such as itemized receipts, invoices or funeral home contracts.
These supporting documents can be submitted either online (through your DisasterAssistance.gov account), by mail (P.O. Box 10001, Hyattsville, MD 20782) or via fax (855-261-3452). After the paperwork is received, it takes FEMA about 45 days to make an eligibility decision.
Families who had multiple deaths due to the coronavirus can also apply. One family can receive up to $35,000 across multiple funerals.
Reimbursements can be used to cover any portion of funeral expenses, including burial plots, caskets, preparation of the body, cremation, urns, clergy, services and headstones as well as costs related to state or local ordinances and producing death certificates.
But, be aware that pre-paid funerals are not eligible for reimbursements. 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 either be deposited into your bank account or sent by mail via check, usually within a few days of approval.
If, however, you receive a letter from FEMA saying you’re ineligible, or if the amount awarded is not enough, you have the right to appeal within 60 days of FEMA’s decision letter.
For more information on the COVID Funeral Assistance program, visit FEMA.gov/disaster/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.