Families in D.C. who have lost a loved one to the coronavirus can apply for a federal program through the city government to help pay for funeral expenses.

The D.C. Department of Homeland Security (HSEMA) supervises the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program. Dr. Chris Rodriguez, the director of HSEMA, said the U.S. Congress started the program as a part of its effort to help people deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This was done because the pandemic is a public health national emergency,” Rodriguez said. “In the District we have lost over 1,100 people to COVID. This is a tragic time for families who have lost loved ones due to COVID and the federal government wanted to help people deal with the costs of a funeral.”

The National Funeral Directors Association reports the average cost of a funeral in the District comes out to $9,000. Many District residents lost jobs or income during the economic downturn that has accompanied the pandemic. As a result, an added expense such as a funeral may not be feasible for many residents, as Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said 756 have registered for the program and the District has disbursed over $2 million people to residents.

Specifics of the Program

To qualify for the program, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses on or after Jan. 2020 and the funeral expenses have to be for someone whose COVID-19 death occurred in the U.S., including the territories and the District, according to FEMA. Only people who incurred COVID-19 related funeral expenses are eligible to apply. Businesses and organizations cannot apply to the program. Funeral assistance goes to the eligible applicant who incurred the costs of the event. The applicant doesn’t need to be related to the decedent. In the case of multiple people involved in a funeral’s financial arrangements, only one person should apply for assistance and submit funeral expense documentation from everyone who contributed to that single application, according to FEMA.

The program approves up to a maximum of $9,000 per decedent and $35,500 per application, per state-level jurisdiction such as the District and the territories, in cases where the applicant incurred funeral expenses for multiple deceased individuals. FEMA cannot provide funding for items already covered by a funeral or burial insurance proceeds, pre-planned or pre-paid funeral contracts, pre-paid trusts for funeral expenses, irrevocable trust for Medicaid, financial assistance for voluntary organizations, government programs or agencies or any other source specifically designated for funeral expenses.

Expenses covered by the program include funeral services, cremation, internment, transportation for up to two people to identify the decedent, transfer of remains, casket or urn, burial plot or cremation niche, marker or headstone, clergy or officiant services, arrangement of the funeral ceremony, use of funeral home equipment or staff, costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates and additional expenses required by local or state government ordinances and laws.

Additionally, documents needed for the program are a death certificate that attributes death to the coronavirus. If the death occurred between Jan. 20, 2020 and May 16, 2020, accompanying a death certificate should be a signed statement from the certifying official on the death certificate or local coroner or medical examiner in the jurisdiction where the death took place specifying the causal pathway between cause of death on the death certificate and the coronavirus. Plus, proof of funeral expenses that has been incurred, according to FEMA.

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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