I-Team 8

1,300 apply to FEMA for COVID funeral assistance; only 13 get payments so far

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will pay up to $9,000 for COVID-19-related funeral expenses, but, as of early May, more than 1,300 Hoosiers applied but only 13 have received help, according to FEMA’s latest data.

In its first 31 days, the FEMA program has received nearly 200,000 Funeral Assistance applications and paid nearly $85 million.

FEMA refused to comment on camera about why its program has responded to so few Hoosier applicants.

People can apply for the program only by phone. Online applications are not available. In an effort to speed up applications, FEMA has said it has added more capacity to its call centers. FEMA also has said that once an application has been submitted, the agency says it will take from 19-25 days to completely process the application.

George Stergiopoulos and his family paid the funeral expenses for his dad, Elias Stergiopoulos, who died in April 2020 of the coronavirus at age 87.

“My dad was just a bigger-than-life character. He told me 25 years ago, you know, he was going to go standing up and he did,” Stergiopoulos said of his father. “They had him on ventilators and they had him on all kinds of stuff, and he still went pretty tough; even when they took him off all that stuff he lasted another 12 hours.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time of Elias’s death, his family could only have a small funeral in Indianapolis. Elias’s body was escorted to the airport and flown to Greece for a full funeral and burial there; his family wasn’t unable to attend that service.

The Stergiopoulus family are in the restaurant business, so paying for a funeral during a pandemic was a huge challenge. “It was hard to budget for anything that year, you know. It was tough,” Stergiopoulos siad.

Stergiopoulus hopes the family can recover some their funeral expenses through the FEMA program, and he plans to “make it a priority” to give the agency a call. “You know, $14-$15 grandish” was the cost, he said. “So, yeah, it piles up, and you’ve got other expenses.”

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