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FEMA starts offering money to families to pay for funerals of COVID victims

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/CNN) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay up to $9,000 for one funeral and close to $35,000 to families that have buried multiple people who died from COVID-19.

The money is intended for families that paid funeral cost out of their own pockets. But, the program’s debut Monday was marked by busy signals and “technical issues,” the agency said Monday, noting it had received “thousands of calls” on its first day of operation.

“We ask that applicants be patient as we work to correct these issues and have all their important documents ready when they call to apply,” FEMA said. “Please know there is no deadline to apply and applicants will have the ability to open a case.”

More than 562,000 people in the United States have died of the coronavirus through Monday, according to the dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. A total of 12,746 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19 through Monday, according to Indiana health officials.

Amy Sloan buried her father, Charlie, in April 2020. Charlie Sloan had a modest life-insurance policy to cover some of the expense related to his death. Amy, her sister and their mother had to cover a couple thousands of dollars of funeral expenses that were not covered by the policy.  

“Is my mom eligible to receive some of this money back because the wording is very vague?” Sloan asked News 8.

When Charlie Sloan was admitted to the hospital last year, his family was told he had contracted the virus. Charlie Sloan’s family got a call in the middle of the night that it was time to take him off life support.

“The entire funeral was covered for the funeral home because back then funerals were so small that we technically didn’t have to pay for a service because there were not enough people there to have a service and then we chipped in for all the burial, the plot expenses, for the cemetery and his stone,” Sloan said. 

FEMA will cover the cost of the casket, mortuary services, transportation of the deceased, the burial plot, and interment or cremation for people who died of COVID-19 after Jan. 20, 2020. The death must have happened in the United States or in U.S. territories. The person applying for the assistance must be a U.S. citizen, a noncitizen national, or a qualified foreigner or immigrant.

Andy Clayton, the executive director of the Indiana Funeral Directors Association, said his group is offering information to funeral directors and families. The FEMA money for funeral assistance is paid directly to families and not funeral homes.

Clayton said, “You don’t have to be a citizen of the United States to be eligible for this if someone is in this country on a work visa or potentially illegally and died of COVID and it is listed on your death certificate as a contributing factor.”

People cannot apply for the assistance online. They have to call 844-684-6333, and FEMA is warning there are scams out already; no one will call to offer people to sign you up. The TTY number is 800-462-7585. Both numbers are open from callers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET weekdays.

While FEMA has aided families with disaster-related burial costs in the past, CNN reports, the COVID-19 effort is the largest of its type. Some $2 billion was allocated as part of the $900 billion relief deal Congress approved in December, while the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion package last month bolstered it by providing the agency with an additional $50 billion to use for coronavirus-related costs.