The sudden loss of a loved one from COVID-19 is hard enough. Coupled with expensive funeral costs, it’s a reality far too many families had to face all too quickly during the pandemic.
FEMA continues to provide financial support through its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Fund.
This relief is retroactive and relatives can apply for funds to cover the cost of up to $9,000 in funeral expenses for a loved one whose death was attributed to COVID-19 on or after January 20th, 2020.
“Not wanting to leave survivors in a position where they had to think about, 'How do I afford funeral costs, burial costs,' whatever that may be for a loved one,” said Sam Harvey, a team lead for individual assistance for FEMA Region 1, which covers New England.
After FEMA initially announced the program, their phone lines were flooded. But now that calls have slowed way down, they're hoping to spread the word about the assistance program.
“When you have these unique scenarios, whether it’s a hurricane or a tornado or in this case a pandemic, leveraging our programs to be able to help those survivors is generally what we do,” Harvey said.
He said your application won't take funds away from other families; there's money to go around.
Nationwide, FEMA said $2.5 billion has helped pay for the funerals of more than 398,000 people who died from COVID-19. That means hundreds of thousands of families are potentially still eligible for this funding, as the CDC reports more than one million deaths from the virus.
“We didn't expect that she was going to survive that and we were right,” said Steve Wozniki of Simsbury, whose mother Barbara had advanced Alzheimer’s at a Kensington nursing home when COVID-19 took her life.
She died two weeks before her 86th birthday in May of 2020.
“It was just tragic that we weren't able to go and visit her regularly,” Wozniki said.
In the height of the pandemic, his family felt a burden many faced: that they weren’t able to spend more time with Barbara, a beloved mother with the biggest heart.
But her family has since received an opportunity to at least relieve a financial burden with this FEMA funding.
“We had no idea that anything like this was available, so it came as a complete surprise and, you know, a welcome surprise, to get the money back," Wozniki said.
“We had a few occasions where before we had one funeral, we were having two in the same family,” said David MacDonald, president of Wallingford and Yalesville Funeral Homes. “You're not used to those types of situations, and they were heartbreaking.”
MacDonald is also the president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.
He said he’s seen the funding be a welcome relief for impacted families.
“It's given people the opportunity to maybe do more of what they wanted to versus what they would have possibly had to do due to financial circumstances," MacDonald said.
The funeral director has helped many families gather the paperwork they need to apply for the funding, specifically a copy of a death certificate showing that COVID-19 was a cause of death.
“It wasn't extremely difficult, but it took a while,” Wozniki explained about the process. “As I recall, they covered up to $9,000, so you know, that was a good chunk of what we've spent."
The assistance brought some financial relief for a grieving family.
“It was nice to have the money back. I don't know, for lack of a better term, it was closure in a way, I guess,” he said.
FEMA said there is currently no end date to apply for this assistance. The funding does not refund expenses already covered by funeral benefits.
For more information on eligibility and how to apply, click here.