A Hand from Uncle Sam: Support for COVID-19 Funeral Expenses 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected American society at every level and had a profound impact on the economy, incomes, and lifestyles. While we have all felt the effects of isolation and public health protocols, many Americans have found themselves in drastic financial situations. Recently, AM Analysts discussed the high costs of medical bills many Americans are facing as a result of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ongoing treatment. This week, we are highlighting another issue that is often overlooked: the struggle to pay for funeral costs for COVID-19 deaths. 

Two years ago Forbes reported that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and cannot afford an emergency over a few hundred dollars. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly six hundred thousand Americans have died from COVID-19, and data from the Federal Reserve shows that there have been over 200,000 more business closures than normal. Pew Research also shows that at least 25% of all households had at least one member lose their job due to the pandemic. 

As this is being written, there are over twenty thousand appeals on GoFundMe.com requesting assistance to cover funeral costs for those who have died from COVID-19. A review of some of these appeals reveals that many families do not know where they are going to get the funds to pay for the funerals, which can cost up to $10,000 on average. Another staggering statistic that also adds to the perspective is that more than 43,000 American children have lost one of their parents to COVID-19. This situation presents a jarring reality that many Americans are struggling to pay for the funerals of their loved ones who have died as a result of COVID-19. 

In reviewing the online fundraising appeals, those struggling to pay for funeral expenses appear to affect every age group and demographic from across America. Coupled with the high medical bills some Americans are also facing from COVID-19 hospitalizations, the pandemic has placed thousands of Americans in dire financial situations. Local media outlets are becoming increasingly concerned about those from their communities who are unable to foot these bills and we can probably expect increased news coverage in the coming weeks. 

Given the sheer number of families requesting financial assistance through platforms such as GoFundMe.com, it is likely that many Americans are unaware of the FEMA programs to assist with funeral costs. While the programs that have been established have already provided relief to countless families, it would be prudent for state and local health departments to develop awareness campaigns and equip community canvassers and local organizations with information to share with the public.  

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set aside about 2 billion dollars to help families with these costs. While similar to past disaster burial expense programs, such as for severe hurricanes, this relief fund is much larger. Any family that had a member die from COVID-19 can receive up to $9,000 to help cover funeral costs.

The federal government gave over 15 million dollars in assistance just last month. They’ve already received over 174,000 applications. More than 17,000 of those requests are from New York, which has been aided with $1.3 million. South Carolina has seen over 3,450 registrations for the relief.

These benefits started distributing funds in April. There are no income requirements, however, there are a few stipulations:

  • The death must have happened in the U.S. or one of its territories. 
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was caused by or related to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a qualified alien who incurred these funeral costs after January 20th, 2020. 
  • It does not matter whether the deceased person was a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien. 

Thousands of Americans have already been taking advantage of this relief but as we see in the thousands of GoFundMe.com appeals, perhaps a more targeted outreach campaign is necessary to support those families. 

To apply for the benefits yourself, visit https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance or call 844-684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

AM TRACE is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in joining AM TRACE for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at c.orlea@am-trace.co.

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