En español | People who need aid covering the financial costs of funerals for loved ones who died of COVID-19 may be eligible for up to $9,000 in assistance from the federal relief legislation that was enacted in March.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — the government agency handling this program — has released its policy for the program and started accepting applications for relief on April 12. Through the end of June, the agency had awarded more than $447 million in assistance to more than 66,800 applicants.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people,” Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said in a statement. “Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."
Be advised that FEMA already has received reports of scammers reaching out individuals claiming to offer help applying for this funeral assistance. If anyone contacts you about this program before you have personally registered for aid, it is a scam. FEMA will not contact people prior to registration.
How much financial assistance can I get?
- The maximum amount of financial aid available is $9,000 per funeral. You may apply for multiple deceased individuals with a maximum of $35,500 per application.
- This federal funeral assistance can be used to help with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation.
- If multiple people helped pay the funeral expenses, they should apply under a single application.
- FEMA is setting up a toll-free 844 number to assist people who want to apply for aid.
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Who is eligible to receive funeral assistance?
FEMA has said that a death must meet at least these criteria to qualify for aid:
- The death certificate must indicate the death was caused by COVID-19. On June 29, FEMA announced that for fatalities that happened between Jan. 20 and May 16, 2020, but the death certificate does not cite COVID-19 as the cause, the agency will allow applicants to submit an additional statement or letter from the death certificate’s certifying official, medical examiner, or coroner that attributes the death to COVID-19. The statement must link the cause of death listed on the death certificate to the virus and should be submitted with the death certificate.
Alternatively, applicants also may contact the person who certified the death to request a death certificate amendment to indicate COVID-19 was the cause
- The death happened in the United States, including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories
- The person applying for funeral assistance must be either a U.S. citizen, a non-citizen national or a qualified alien who incurred the funeral expenses after January 20, 2020
- Notably, there is no requirement that the deceased person was a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien.
How can you apply for help?
On April 12, 2021, FEMA will begin accepting calls for assistance applying for funeral aid on its toll-free telephone lines. The number to call is 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday.
FEMA has said that if you had COVID-19 funeral expenses last year, you should make sure to gather documentation for all of your costs. That should include:
- An official death certificate that ties the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows the death occurred in the United States, including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories
- Funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that include your name, the deceased person's name, the amount of the funeral expenses, and the dates those expenses were incurred
- Proof of funds received from other sources that went specifically toward the cost of the funeral. The COVID-19 assistance program will not be able to give you money for costs that were paid for by burial or funeral insurance or with financial aid received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.
How will you get the money?
This is another detail that will be firmed up in the weeks ahead. So far, FEMA has said that if you qualify for funeral assistance, you may choose to receive a payment by mail or through direct deposit when you apply for aid.
Editor’s note: This article originally was published on March 18, 2021. It has been updated with more recent information about the application process.
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers, and Congress for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.