Local Government Agencies Emergency Support
In response to COVID-19, several local government agencies have developed emergency support programs for their residents. Various county or city emergency support programs include rental, utility, and funeral expense relief. Some cities received direct support from state and federal agencies while others received funding from their local Cannabis programs. When applying for both local and federal funeral assistance, FEMA requests information about other funeral assistance received, such as local grants or donations, and will likely take these into consideration when approving reimbursements.
FEMA Funeral Assistance
COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020 are eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) financial assistance and reimbursement up to $9,000. Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, an additional $2 billion was appropriated to the Disaster Relief Fund to reimburse funeral expenses.
Across the nation, individuals and families devastated by the loss of a loved one are looking to their local, state, and national government agencies to help defray funeral costs related to COVID-19. As of Monday, May 10, 2021, FEMA has received nearly 174,000 funeral assistance applications, approved more than 2,200 of those applications, and distributed more than $15.5 million for funeral expenses. In California, 19,148 have applied for FEMA funeral assistance and of those, 128 applicants have been approved so far and FEMA has distributed $877,645 in funeral assistance.
FEMA provides financial assistance under the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) provision of the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) to individuals and households with disaster-related funeral expenses.
“Funeral Assistance is a form of Other Needs Assistance (ONA) that is typically available when the President authorizes the Individuals and Households Program (IHP)—a type of Individual Assistance (IA)—pursuant to a 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 the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Congress authorized FEMA to provide Funeral Assistance through legislation.”
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the “national median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial for calendar year 2019 was $7,640. If a vault is included, something that is typically required by a cemetery, the median cost is $9,135.” These costs do not take into account additional expenses like “cemetery, monument or marker costs.” In California, the average cost for a funeral was $7,290 but could range up to $12,000.
FEMA Funeral Assistance Provisions
Federal assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application per state. If someone is responsible for more than one funeral expense, federal assistance is available for more than one deceased individual.
According to FEMA, to be eligible for funeral assistance, recipients must meet three conditions:
- The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and 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 a qualified non-citizen who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020. There are no residential or legal status requirements pertaining to the deceased person.
Eligible expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation typically include, but are not limited to:
- 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
There is no deadline to apply and according to FEMA’s website, “since there is no way to predict how many COVID-related deaths may occur between now and 2025, an exact funding cap has not been established.” Although the application queries the applicant to provide his or her annual gross income, FEMA states that assistance is not income-dependent, annual gross income does not affect eligibility, and this information is only for demographic purposes.
Prepaid and preplanned funeral expenses, such as funeral insurance, are not eligible for federal assistance reimbursement and FEMA will not duplicate assistance from other government or voluntary agencies, or other sources. However, life insurance proceeds used to pay for funeral expenses can be considered for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance and is not considered a duplicate benefit.
Once the applicant is approved for funeral assistance, FEMA issues a check by mail or funds will be directly deposited to the applicant, depending on the applicant’s preference of receipt. Should the applicant not receive approval, the decision may be appealed within 60 days from the date of the decision letter.
Applicants can only apply by phone by calling (844) 684-6333, and multilingual services are available. Online applications are not available. Further information about funeral expense assistance is available on FEMA.gov or the FEMA Funeral Assistance page.
 https://hcidla.lacity.org/; https://www.ci.commerce.ca.us/Home/Components/News/News/1069/
For more information about this topic or other legal matters, please contact your OMLO attorney.