It's no news that the coronavirus pandemic has delivered an onslaught of uncertainty, anxiety, and outright grief. To add to the long list of hardships, if you lost a loved one to COVID-19, you might also have had to shoulder unanticipated funeral or burial costs—a tall order for many during financially rocky times. For those who have already paid for such expenses, or who will do so in the near future, some financial relief is now available: up to $9,000 of reimbursement from FEMA.
In April of 2021, FEMA began accepting applications for their funeral assistance program (under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021). This financial assistance applies to COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. No deadline for applying currently exists, nor does the program have a set end date.
Additionally, if you made the hard decision of foregoing a funeral service for a loved one because you were financially struggling, you can now consider holding a service—even more than a year later—and seek reimbursement for that cost.
Eligibility for FEMA's funeral assistance depends on the circumstances of the deceased individual's death and your (the "applicant's") citizenship status, as outlined below. Notably absent are any annual income caps; the assistance is available regardless of how much you make. Just as importantly, FEMA has no requirements regarding your relationship to the deceased person; you can apply for reimbursement for expenses you paid for a deceased friend's funeral, just as you can for a deceased family member.
You are eligible for funeral assistance from FEMA if the following three requirements are all met:
FEMA's funeral assistance program will cover the costs of cremation, a casket or urn, burial plot, headstone, transfer of remains, clergy or officiant services, and more, up to a maximum amount of $9,000 per deceased individual. For a list of examples, see FEMA's Funeral Assistance FAQs. Importantly, if you incurred a cost that was directly related to funeral services but you don't see it on the list, it's worth submitting documentation anyway—FEMA has stated that the items on the list are not the only expenses that they will consider.
One of the grim realities of the pandemic is that many people have lost more than one family member or close friend to COVID-19. FEMA allows you to apply for the funeral costs of multiple deceased individuals, up to $35,500 per state. So, for example, if you lost family members in both Oregon and Washington, you can apply for financial assistance up to $9,000 per individual, capped at $35,500 total in Oregon and $35,500 total in Washington.
If you paid for the funeral costs using funds from certain other sources, you might not be eligible for FEMA funeral assistance. FEMA does not allow what they call "duplicate benefits," which essentially means receiving FEMA assistance when you already used funds that were designated for the deceased individual's funeral expenses. So you would be ineligible for FEMA reimbursement to the extent that you used pre-paid funeral contracts, pre-paid trusts for funeral expenses, or burial or funeral insurance. Likewise, to the extent you received financial assistance from "voluntary agencies" (FEMA doesn't define this term, but common sense would say it refers to charities or religious groups), government programs or agencies, or other sources, you won't qualify. (On the other hand, if you paid for the funeral costs using life insurance proceeds, which are not earmarked for funeral costs, you are still eligible for reimbursement.)
If the funeral expenses you incurred exceeded the funds you received for funeral costs from other sources, the amount of excess might still be eligible for reimbursement from FEMA.
To apply, first you must pick up the phone to obtain an application number. FEMA's COVID-19 Funeral Assistance line is 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585) and operates 9am-9pm Eastern time. Once you receive an application number, you will use it to submit documentation, either online or by mail.
You'll need to submit the following documents:
In your application, you'll have the chance to choose how to receive the financial assistance: a check by mail or direct deposit. If your application is denied, you will have 60 days to appeal the decision.
It's stomach-turning but perhaps predictable these days: Scams related to FEMA's funeral assistance program are already popping up. For example, someone claiming to be a federal employee or FEMA representative might offer to help you register for the program. That's a tip-off that you're dealing with a scammer, because FEMA will not initiate the application process on behalf of eligible recipients. You'll hear from FEMA only after you have contacted them.