The Biden administration is set to launch a massive relief program next week to help cover the funerary costs of people who died from COVID-19 in the United States ― in what is expected to be the largest such program ever offered by the federal government.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin accepting applications starting April 12 through a dedicated phone line.
The agency has provided similar assistance to families of natural disaster victims in the past, such as after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, FEMA will provide up to $9,000 per funeral if applicants meet certain conditions. The death must have occurred in the U.S. or its territories, and “the death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19,” according to FEMA’s website.
While each applicant must be “a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien,” according to the FEMA site, there is no requirement that the person who died had to have any specific citizenship status.
Funeral expenses can be covered only if incurred after Jan. 20, 2020 ― the date of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.
FEMA is encouraging people who are thinking of applying to start gathering documentation, including death certifications, receipts or contracts from funeral homes. The agency says it recognizes that more than one person may have contributed to the funeral expenses for a particular deceased person.
“FEMA will work with applicants in these situations and those who submit multiple receipts for funeral expenses when their name does not appear on the receipt,” the agency says.
People who were responsible for the funeral expenses of more than one COVID-19 victim can submit additional applications per deceased individual, but assistance is capped at $35,500.
Due to testing and diagnostic limitations at the start of the pandemic, some families who suspect their loved ones died of the coronavirus may need to seek out an amended death certificate in order to apply.
More than 550,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, with more than 30.8 million confirmed cases across the country. The true number of deaths attributable to the pandemic is thought to be even higher.