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FEMA launches nationwide program to help people pay for COVID-19 funeral costs

COVID-19's impact on funeral homes
COVID-19 deaths create work overload for funeral homes 01:31

The federal government in early April will start offering financial assistance to help cover funeral costs for people who have died of COVID-19.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide up to $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 per applicant to help with expenses related to coronavirus deaths that occurred after January 20, 2020, the agency said Wednesday.

"At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters," Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said in a statement. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."

The program is intended to help with costs for funeral services and interment or cremation, with aid applicants allowed to seek funding for the cost of services for multiple COVID-19 deaths, FEMA said. If more than one person contributed toward funeral expenses, they should apply on one application, although the agency will consider documentation from others who may have incurred related expenses. 

"The challenge will be to make sure that we assist people in a compassionate way," Fenton told CBS News in an interview. "That's one of our core values of FEMA, and we want to make sure we're compassionate for those who have lost loved ones during this event."

COVID-19 has killed more than 545,000 Americans, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

With its policy now finalized, FEMA is moving to implement the funeral assistance program nationwide, and will set up an 800 number in the coming weeks to help people apply for aid. In the meantime, the agency encourages would-be applicants to start gathering the following: 

  • An official death certificate that attributes a person's death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S. The death certificate must indicate the death "may have been caused by" or "was likely the result of" COVID-19 or coronavirus-like symptoms. 
  • Funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant's name, the deceased individual's name, the amount of funeral expenses and dates the costs were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs.  Funeral assistance may not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/state/local/tribal/territorial government programs or agencies, or other sources.

For more information about the program, visit COVID-19 Funeral Assistance |

The economic rescue package passed by Congress in December included $2 billion for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to offer assistance to "an individual or household to meet disaster-related funeral expenses" incurred through December 31, 2020. The government should cover 100% of the funeral costs, according to the measure. 

CDC predicts decrease in COVID-19 deaths 08:02

FEMA said at the time it was reviewing "potential options for implementation," but its hands were effectively tied. In an April 28 memorandum, then-President Donald Trump authorized crisis counseling assistance through FEMA, but stipulated that the order "not be construed to encompass any authority to approve other forms of assistance."

The Trump administration stuck to its stance, despite pleas from New York's congressional delegation, which in May urged Mr. Trump and FEMA to help grieving families "give their loved ones who succumbed to the coronavirus proper burials." 

The U.S. government often provides support for losses suffered during a major disaster or emergency. The president frees up aid by declaring an emergency. Under the Stafford Act, FEMA can offer help with burial costs if the deaths were caused by a presidential declaration of an emergency or disaster. 

—With reporting from CBS News' Nicole Sganga

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