FEMA to reimburse families $9,000 for COVID-related funeral costs

Johtay Darwin says goodbye to his great-grandmother Lottie Cotton, who died of COVID on Dec. 31, 2020.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin offering $9,000 to families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 in a massive effort to retroactively reimburse them for funeral costs.

Applications for the money will open up on Monday. 

This is $2,000 more than what FEMA had offered earlier this year and has no cut-off date as long as someone died of coronavirus after January 2020. The original amount that was going to be offered was $7,000 and people had to have died only in 2020. 

The Washington Post notes that this is the largest program of its type ever offered by the federal government.

The program is open to families regardless of their income, as long as they show documentation and have not already received similar benefits through another program. People do not need to be citizens to apply. 

FEMA has reimbursed burial costs before, but it has never offered as large a payment to so many people. In 2017, for example, FEMA paid $2.6 million to 976 people for funeral costs of victims of three hurricanes — an average of $2,664 per applicant.

To date, more than 557,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. 

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) announced the changes this week. She and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) introduced the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act last congressional session. The money will come from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

"Families across this country are living on the edge because of this public health and economic crisis," Lee said in a statement on Wednesday. "On top of facing unimaginable hardship and loss, the last thing they should have to worry about is how to pay for funeral expenses."

This will be great news to families.

 Dozens had contacted KTVU wondering how and when they could access the funds and many were disappointed at the earlier cutoff date. 

For example, the family of Lottie Cotton, a 73-year-old longtime San Francisco public school elementary school advisor of coronavirus, had been confused about how to access the money when the announcement was first made in February.  

"Our family has really been hit hard," said Michelle Moore, Cotton's 50-year-old daughter, who lives in Hayward and is currently out of work.

 John Madox Jr. of Hayward will also be thrilled. 

His father, John Maddox Sr., a former Navy sailor and Christian minister, died on Jan. 1, one day after the former deadline expired. Now, Madox will be eligible to apply for the money. He's an out-of-work roofer who dipped into his Social Security savings to pay $8,000 to pay for the rest of his dad's burial.

There is no citizenship requirement for eligibility for this relief. If multiple people contributed toward funeral expenses, they should apply under a single application as applicant and co-applicant.

Applicants must provide the following documents:

  • Official death certificate attributing 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, such as receipts or a funeral home contract, that includes the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. We are not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies, or other sources.

If people have more questions, they can call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Hot Line: 844-684-6333 or TTY: 800-462-7585. For more information on the program and to fill out an application, click here. 

More information can be found here. 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez