Families with COVID Deceased Relatives are Losing $9,000 FEMA Stimulus Checks

Wanda Olson and her daughter had to deal with more than just grief when her son-in-law died in March after contracting COVID-19. There was a financial burden of arranging for cremation.

It was nearly $2,000 even without a funeral, which Olson initially covered. After her daughter and her learned about the federal program, she was able to reimburse herself and her family for up to $9,000 towards funeral costs.

An application was submitted to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a deposit was received by June, and Olson’s daughter has been able to reimburse her mother $1,974.

“Had this not been available, we would have been paying the money ourselves,” said Olson, 80, of Villa Rica, Georgia.

“There wasn’t any red tape. This was a very easy, well-handled process.”

According to NPR, by Dec. 6, nearly 226,000 people had received nearly $1.5 billion from FEMA towards funeral costs related to COVID-19 deaths. Considering the 800,000 deaths related to Coronavirus, it’s clear that many eligible families haven’t taken advantage of the funeral benefit.

Olson’s son-in-law began experiencing symptoms of bronchitis after traveling and working on air conditioners at theaters, restaurants, and businesses. He was put on a ventilator in the hospital after being at home for a few days. After several weeks he died.

“He could never overcome it,” Olson told.

COVID-19-related deaths occurring after May 16, 2020, must be indicated on death certificates for reimbursement qualifications.

To be qualified for FEMA checks, when death certificates are filed, they must be accompanied by a statement signed by a medical examiner, coroner, or another official noting that COVID-19 contributed to a death.

Depending on the state, the percentage of people who are reimbursed varies greatly. State-by-state data compiled by FEMA show that the rates ranged from nearly 40% in North Carolina and Maryland to fewer than 15% in Idaho and Oregon.

Some funeral directors have taken it upon themselves to inform grieving families about the benefit even though reimbursements must go directly to individuals.

Sunset Funeral Home, Cremation Center & Cemetery owner David Shipper, of Evansville, Indiana, advertised the benefit and offered help to anyone who qualified.

“Nine thousand dollars — that’s a lot of money. We wanted to find a way to tell people about it,” he stated.

“We stopped advertising some time ago, but when we have a new family with a death from COVID, we tell them about the program.”

The workers at the home will help walk families through the process if they need it, he said, including collecting needed paperwork, contacting FEMA over the phone, and collecting the needed paperwork.

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Family members may simply not be aware of the benefits, or they may not want to revisit the pain of the death due to reluctance, according to Shipper. He recommends requesting help as early as possible as the funeral process starts.

“They’re much more likely to take advantage right then than if they’ve already spent the money and don’t want to open it up again,” Shipper said.

Some of the biggest states have received the most funds from FEMA.

California and Texas, which both reported over 74,000 COVID-19 deaths, have paid out more than 21,000 reimbursements through the program. Over $141 million has been distributed to residents in both states.

Only 123 Vermonters from Vermont state have been reimbursed, a total of approximately $704,000.

Expenses covered under the FEMA program include

  • Funeral services
  • Cremation and interment
  • Costs for caskets or urns
  • Burial plots or cremation niches
  • Markers or headstones
  • Transportation or transfer of remains
  • Clergy or officiant services
  • The use of funeral home equipment or staff

Federal stimulus funds have been used to fund the program, and funds are still available. Applications are not accepted online.

In most cases, the determination of eligibility takes fewer than 30 days after all the necessary documents are received and verified, according to FEMA. Once your eligibility is confirmed, applicants will receive your funds within a few days if you requested a direct deposit. For applicants who requested checks, the process may be longer.

Jones-Wynn Funeral Homes & Crematory president Ellen Wynn McBrayer said the reimbursement is intended to ease the financial and emotional burden that the pandemic has caused.

She shared the story of a woman who lost her mother, husband, and child, all within six months to the disease. One of the workers at the funeral home also succumbed to the virus.

“To have to help a grieving family is hard on a normal day, but to see so many deaths,” she spoke out.

“COVID has just broken a lot of hearts and taken a lot of lives.”

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