FEMA Funeral Assistance for COVID-19

Posted on February 18, 2021 by Hector Beltran under COVID-19 Resources, General
2 Comments

January 25, 2021

Original document can be viewed here | FAQ’s

Updated FEMA Guidance can be viewed here

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 mandated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provide Funeral Assistance for deaths associated with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) pandemic and appropriated funding to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) for such purposes. This Insight discusses these provisions, and provides an overview of FEMA Funeral Assistance, including eligible expenses, considerations for determining award amounts, and applicant eligibility criteria per FEMA’s guidance.

FEMA IA for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Funeral Assistance is a form of Other Needs Assistance (ONA) that is available when the Individuals and Households Program (IHP)—a type of Individual Assistance (IA)—is authorized. FEMA provides various forms of assistance when authorized by the President pursuant to a presidential declaration of emergency or major disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Donald J. Trump issued a nationwide emergency declaration under Stafford Act Section 501(b), and subsequently, between the end of March and early May 2020, approved major disaster declaration requests for 50 states, 5 territories, the District of Columbia, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida under Stafford Act Section 401.

The only forms of IA authorized pursuant to these major disaster declarations were Crisis Counseling Assistance (CCP) and Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) (a form of ONA). All jurisdictions that received major disaster declarations were authorized to provide CCP with the exceptions of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. These CCP requests were still under review as of December 7, 2020. Only South Dakota and American Samoa did not participate in the LWA program.

Although many governors requested IHP assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic and some Members of Congress called upon FEMA to provide it, IHP assistance has not been authorized for any of the COVID19 pandemic declarations. Requests for additional forms of IA were still under review as of January 25, 2021.

Congress, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, authorized the provision of Funeral Assistance for the COVID-19 declarations. Authorizing additional forms of assistance in this way is uncommon (CRS found few examples of legislation mandating the provision of specific types of FEMA assistance).

Funeral Assistance for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Title II of Division M of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 appropriated an additional $2,000,000,000 to the DRF to carry out the work of Section 201 of Title II, which requires FEMA to provide Funeral Assistance through the IHP for the presidential Stafford Act declarations of emergency issued on March 13, 2020, and subsequent major disaster declarations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides reimbursements for such expenses incurred through December 31, 2020, at a 100% federal cost share.

The Funeral Assistance provided through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, has a more limited period of assistance than the IHP usually does. IHP assistance is usually provided for up to 18 months following a declaration (unless extended by FEMA), which, if authorized for the COVID-19 declarations, would run until around the end of September to early November 2021. This Funeral Assistance, however, is only available for expenses incurred through December 31, 2020.

Additionally, although the federal cost share for ONA is set at 75% in statute, Congress has the ability to adjust the federal cost share of ONA through legislation, as was done in this case.

According to FEMA, the agency is currently “reviewing the legislation [Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021] and evaluating potential options for implementation.”

Eligible Expenses

FEMA provides Funeral Assistance for disaster-caused funeral expenses. Not all of the expenses associated with the death of a household member are eligible for Funeral Assistance. FEMA’s guidance lists eligible expenses associated with interment or reinterment, which include:

  • remains transfer;
  • caskets/urns;
  • burial plots/cremation niches;
  • markers/headstones; and
  • additional state/local/territorial/tribal (SLTT) government mandated expenses.

Eligible interment expenses include:

  • transportation to identify the deceased (up to two people), if required by SLTT
    authorities;
  • interment;
  • funeral services;
  • clergy/officiant services; and
  • death certificate costs (up to five).

Eligible reinterment expenses include:

  • reinterment;
  • funeral services (with limitations); and
  • the cost of identifying disinterred remains.

Ineligible expenses include costs associated with:

  • obituaries;
  • flowers;
  • printed materials (e.g., programs);
  • catering;
  • transporting people to funeral services or interment/reinterment sites; and
  • gratuities.

Determining Award Amounts

Eligible applicants may receive different Funeral Assistance award amounts. Considerations relevant to the amount of assistance eligible individuals and households may receive include:

  • the state-set maximum amount of Funeral Assistance that may be awarded per death or per household. This is set by the state in its “ONA Administrative Option Selection” form (the amount of assistance an individual or household may be eligible to receive for all types of ONA for a single emergency or major disaster is capped at $35,500 for FY2020); and
  • funeral expenses covered by other sources (e.g., burial insurance), and financial
    assistance provided by voluntary agencies, government programs/agencies, or other entities.

Not every applicant will necessarily receive the maximum Funeral Assistance award amount. An applicant’s award amount will depend on their unmet needs (the remaining dollar amount based on the cost of the eligible expenses they incurred or will incur minus any insurance or assistance from other sources, up to the maximum award amount for Funeral Assistance set by the state). Applicants may appeal FEMA award decisions.

Applicant Eligibility Criteria

Individuals and households may apply for Funeral Assistance if they meet the general IHP eligibility criteria and the criteria for Funeral Assistance. To receive any IHP assistance, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national, or qualified alien,
and must have disaster-caused needs and necessary expenses that are not covered by insurance or other assistance. FEMA must also be able to verify their identity. In addition, to receive Funeral Assistance, an applicant must provide:

  • official documentation directly or indirectly attributing the death to the declared disaster (e.g., an official death certificate);
  • receipts or verifiable estimates indicating the applicant incurred or will incur eligible expenses; and
  • documentation of burial insurance and financial assistance from other sources

Author Information

Elizabeth M. Webster
Analyst in Emergency Management and Disaster
Recovery

Disclaimer

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.


FAQ by cnet.com

Who can get reimbursed for COVID-19 related funeral expenses?

We don’t yet know exactly who will be eligible to receive these funds, or if it will be based solely on income level or some other set of factors.

“If you are a family who couldn’t afford or had to just stretch, went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000 from FEMA,” Schumer said at a press event on Monday.

The funding will be available for funeral costs incurred between Jan. 20, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, but not for funerals that took place in 2021, a FEMA spokesperson told CNET. Schumer estimated that more than $200 million of that funding will go to New York, particularly to epicenters of the virus like Corona, Queens.

How much money can you get reimbursed?

The bill says that FEMA will reimburse families up to $7,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn’t yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds.

In 2019, the median national cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault or casket is included (which is often required by a cemetery), the median cost went up to $9,135. And that doesn’t take into account cemetery, monument or headstone costs, or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or an obituary fee, the NFDA noted.

How much money can you get reimbursed?

The bill says that FEMA will reimburse families up to $7,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn’t yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds.

In 2019, the median national cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault or casket is included (which is often required by a cemetery), the median cost went up to $9,135. And that doesn’t take into account cemetery, monument or headstone costs, or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or an obituary fee, the NFDA noted.

What kind of information will you need to apply?

Again, we still don’t know all of the details, but it’s likely that you’ll need to have documentation of funeral costs such as invoices or billing records from the mortuary, crematorium or cemetery to provide to FEMA to get reimbursed for some or all of those costs.

It’s also likely you’ll need an original copy of an official death certificate. You can get one by contacting the state or county vital records office. Sometimes a funeral home or a third-party provider can also request this for you.

You can likely reach out to the businesses you worked with to receive an invoice if you didn’t keep one initially. If you did much of the preparation yourself, you should collect receipts or bank statements. We recommend keeping these in one organized place for when you need them.

Updated FEMA Guidance can be viewed here

2 thoughts on “FEMA Funeral Assistance for COVID-19

  1. Chris Pracht says:

    My son lost his 46-year old wife to Covid. Such a shock and now left with the normal bills on his own, as well as medical and funeral expenses. His wife, Shelby, worked at UNMC in Omaha and contacted Covid, entered into the hospital on 1/12/2021 and passed away 1/26/2021, so unexpected and so quickly. He thinks he may have to sell his house, car, truck, and everything else they worked so hard for just to cover the upcoming unexpected bills that are to come in and the normal monthly bills. Is there any financial help available for him and his boys? Or can you tell me where to research. Did all assistance expire on December 30, 2020? Any help would be graciously appreciated. His home residence is Carson, Iowa. She expired at OMAHA UNMC in nebraska. 402-253-4485

    1. Hector Beltran says:

      Hi Chris, I am sorry to hear about your loss. The grief and healing process takes time, so please remember to be kind and patient with yourself. FEMA issued an updated policy. Please view their policy at the following link: https://funeralleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/fema_policy_covid-19_funeral_assistance-updated.pdf

      Note, within the next few weeks, FEMA will have a dedicated phone line to assist individuals with their applications for financial assistance.

      I would recommend reaching out to your local funeral home for additional programs that are available at the local level.

      Thank you.

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