A federal program that will reimburse funeral expenses incurred on behalf of people who died from COVID-19-related causes began accepting applications over the phone Monday morning.
In less than 48 hours, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is providing the assistance, had posted a notice to the program’s webpage: “We are experiencing high call volume on the Funeral Assistance phone line, which is causing some technical issues. Please try again later if you get a busy signal or your call doesn’t connect. There is no deadline to apply.”
Crawford County funeral directors are working to understand the program even as they begin fielding questions about it and reaching out to families who may be eligible.
“It doesn’t take away the loss of the family member,” said Robb Waid, a fourth-generation funeral director whose family has operated funeral homes in Crawford County for more than 120 years, “but it certainly could provide helpful relief of the financial burden.”
FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program will provide up to $9,000 in reimbursements for a single funeral and up to $35,500 for those with expenses from multiple coronavirus-related funerals.
Pre-paid funerals and costs paid by funeral or burial insurance policies are not eligible for reimbursement.
“We’ve reached out to the families that we’ve served that had situations that could qualify,” said Waid, supervisor of Robert W. Waid Funeral Home Inc. in Meadville. “My understanding is that a couple of the families have been interested.”
The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center on Tuesday estimated that 563,027 Americans have died due to COVID-19. At $9,000 per funeral, federal assistance for each of those funerals could cost more than $5 billion. Actual reimbursements will likely total much less since many funerals are paid for at least in part by insurance.
According to the Crawford County Coroner’s Office, the county has recorded 159 COVID-related deaths.
Kevin Royal, funeral director at Royal-Coleman Funeral Home in Linesville, anticipated the overwhelming initial interest in the program that resulted in the technical issues FEMA alluded to on the webpage. Even so, he said, awareness of the program had not yet spread widely in the area.
“We haven’t had any questions about it yet,” he said on Monday. “I don’t think anyone knows anything about it yet.”
As they find out, they will likely be interested: The $9,000 reimbursement cap would in many cases cover much of a family’s funeral expenses, according to Royal. He estimated the average cost for basic funeral expenses ranges from $7,000 to $10,000, though various related expenses for flowers, meals and other items can bring the amount higher.
In addition, according to Kristin Torok, funeral director intern at Hatheway-Tedesco Funeral Home and Crematory in Meadville, the application process is unlikely to intimidate people who have already had to deal with the loss of a family member during the pandemic.
“It looks like it’s going to be a pretty simple process to apply,” she said.
While funeral homes can assist families in their application, they cannot make the application for them.
Applications must be initiated by calling (844) 684-6333 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. FEMA representatives will assist in completion of the application, which will require an official death certificate attributing the death to COVID-19, funeral expense documents, and records of any insurance benefits or burial assistance from other sources used to pay for the funeral.
If life insurance proceeds were used, those expenses can be reimbursed, according to FEMA. Only insurance proceeds specifically intended for funeral or burial costs are ineligible.
To be eligible, expenses must have been incurred after Jan. 20, 2020, and must have occurred within the U.S. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for reimbursement. However, there are no citizenship requirements with regard to the COVID-19 victim.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
For more information
Applications for FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program can be made by calling (844) 684-6333 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eligible applicants can be reimbursed for up to $9,000 per funeral. Those with expenses for multiple funerals are eligible for up to $35,500 in reimbursements.
Some of the eligible expenses include:
• Transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased individual.
• Transfer of remains.
• Casket or urn.
• Burial plot or cremation niche.
• Marker or headstone.
• Clergy or officiant services.
• Arrangement of the funeral ceremony.
• Use of funeral home equipment or staff.
• Cremation or interment costs.
• Costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates.
• Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances.