The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced March 19 that it would begin offering COVID-19 assistance relating to funeral costs.
“Families will have to file for themselves,” said Randy Anderson, a first-generation funeral director in Alabama. But with the average funeral costing $8,000-$10,000, that money will help families during a tough year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families,” states the FEMA website. “We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus.”
FEMA plans for up to $9,000 per funeral (and a maximum of $35,500 per application) for COVID-related funeral costs incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
Anderson, who owns Radney Funeral Home in Alexander City and Langley Funeral Home in Camp Hill, is an ordained Baptist minister and serves as music director for Rocky Creek Baptist Church, New Site. He also serves as president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association.
COVID-19 has offered many challenges to everyone, especially in the funeral business, he said. Anderson has seen three families who’ve lost loved ones to the coronavirus this month.
“I think the hardest thing has been helping people who haven’t been able to see their families for months and month and months,” he said.
The high numbers of COVID deaths in his area, along with two nursing home outbreaks, strained his staff. They went to a seven-day on and seven-day off schedule to relieve the workers and help with social distancing rules and limited capacities.
He and his staff are taking it one day at a time and starting each day at work in prayer. He has scheduled a counselor to come in to talk with them as a group. Dedicated times to share their feelings and opinions have been helpful, but he has encouraged counseling.
“Start with a pastor, or go to a certified professional counselor,” Anderson said. “The best thing is to talk about it. This is too difficult to walk off.”
Anderson said he himself battled the virus for two months in the last part of 2020.
“My staff continues to work hard and serve families,” he said, noting that between November 2020 and February 2021, his funeral homes had served four times the average number of families. “Ours is more than a business it’s a ministry.”
NFDA has been working with FEMA to determine filing procedures for the new benefit.
The goal is to make it easy for people to establish an account and upload documents for quicker reimbursement. The amount from FEMA can be applied for certain expenses over a prepaid funeral plan.
While individuals apply for themselves, Anderson said funeral homes like his would be happy to help with questions. He spent part of the day March 25 learning more about this effort so he could better answer questions.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed both the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. These acts allow for costs relating to caskets, urns, burial plots and headstones to be reimbursed.
More than 10,500 Alabama deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since early 2020. In April, FEMA will begin accepting applications for those funds.
Who Is Eligible?
According to FEMA, applicants must meet these conditions:
- The death must have occurred in the United States, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.
- The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
- The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020.
- There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien.
- If multiple individuals contributed toward funeral expenses, they should apply under a single application.
How to Apply
Types of information needed should include:
- An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
- Funeral expenses documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that includes the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
- Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. Duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources are not reimbursable.
If eligible, recipients will get a check by mail or funds by direct deposit, depending on which option was chosen when the application was submitted.
For more information, visit here. An 800-number will be operational in April for further assistance.
Read about Funeral Benefit Scams here.