FEMA funeral assistance tops $2 billion to families of Covid-19 victims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's funeral assistance program has disbursed more than $2 billion to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 since the application process began almost a year ago, the agency announced Tuesday.

By Liz Stark, CNN

(CNN) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency's funeral assistance program has disbursed more than $2 billion to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 since the application process began almost a year ago, the agency announced Tuesday.

The funds were distributed to more than 300,000 applicants, according to FEMA, with the average amount of assistance totaling roughly $6,500.

"FEMA's COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program has helped provide over 300,000 people with critical financial relief during a time of such unexpected, unimaginable and wide spread loss," FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement.

More than 960,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US since the pandemic began.

FEMA will also launch a targeted paid media campaign aimed at areas with high Covid-19 death rates, but low registrations for the funeral assistance program, the agency said. The campaign will start in localities in four states: California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

"Our new outreach campaign is designed to reach families, especially across underserved communities, where the cost of a funeral can be a financial burden to a loved one. Our goal is to help families apply for assistance, as well as submit all required documents for existing applications," said Criswell.

The agency is also hosting media roundtables with several local media outlets in African American, Hispanic and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

FEMA's reimbursement program covers the transfer of remains, burial plot, casket, clergy services, cremation and headstone, among other expenses, for deaths that occurred in the US. The maximum amount is $9,000 for each loved one who passed away, with a $35,500 limit per applicant who incurred costs for multiple victims.

To qualify, the death must have occurred in the US or its territories, and funeral expenses must have been incurred after January 20, 2020. While the applicant must be a US citizen or legal resident, there is no requirement that the deceased person meet this criteria.

Applicants start the process by calling FEMA's funeral assistance hotline, 844-684-6333. They must then submit all of the required documentation to determine eligibility. Applications can only be processed after all the paperwork is received.

Applicants must submit a death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to Covid-19. If the death certificate was issued between January 20 and May 16, 2020, the applicant instead can submit a signed statement from the original certifier of the death certificate or the local medical examiner that lists Covid-19 as a cause or contributing cause of death. This signed statement must provide an additional explanation linking the cause of death listed on the death certificate to Covid-19.

Congress established the program as part of its coronavirus relief packages in 2020 and 2021.

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