In less than two weeks, more than 130,000 Americans have already applied for COVID-19 funeral assistance from the US government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday.
Under a program included in Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package, people who lost a loved one to the coronavirus are eligible to receive up to $9,000 in reimbursement for the costs of burying or cremating them. Each applicant is eligible to receive up to $35,500 in total.
According to FEMA, over $16,000 has been dispersed, as of April 22.
The agency began processing applications by phone – (844) 684-6333 – on April 12. Those seeking reimbursement must provide a copy of an official death certificate and any related receipts. Covered expenses include the cost of transferring remains, the purchase of a casket or urn, as well as clergy or other funeral services.
More than 571,000 people in the US have now died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
There is no cap on how much money FEMA will ultimately disperse and no deadline to apply.
Thousands of people are ringing every hour to obtain federal aid for the cost of burying a loved one who died from COVID-19.
On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it was now beginning to process applications for $2 billion in funeral assistance made possible by the $1.9 stimulus packaged passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden last month.
The inclusion of the aid was made possible thanks to a push led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
At a joint press conference on Monday, the two Democrats urged people to call FEMA if they paid for any COVID-related funeral expenses in the past year – anything from the cost of a casket to the funeral ceremony itself.
“The phone number is run by people who are understanding, compassionate, and speak multiple languages,” Schumer said, per the New York Daily News.
The New York lawmakers initially requested the aid in April 2020, when New York City was first slammed by the coronavirus.
“As the tragic number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise in New York, individuals who are facing incredible loss are also being saddled with an additional financial burden,” they wrote in a letter to FEMA.
Over 500,000 people in the US have died from the coronavirus since that letter was sent.
Here’s how to apply
FEMA is only accepting applications by phone, a process that has overwhelmed the agency. On Monday alone, it received over a million inquiries, Ocasio-Cortez announced on Twitter.
FEMA declined to provide the latest tally. But when Insider called the hotline (844-684-6333) Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,900 people were ahead in the queue.
The funeral assistance program is open to anyone, regardless of income, who paid a funeral expense associated with a coronavirus death in the US; the deceased need not be a US citizen, but applicants must provide proof of their legal status.
Specifically, FEMA is requesting that applicants provide both their own Social Security number and that of the person or persons who died, saying that while that information is not mandatory it will speed up the disbursement of funds.
Applicants must also provide a copy of an official death certificate; receipts indicating funeral expenses and the dates they were incurred; any applicable funeral insurance information; current annual household income; as well as a phone number and current address.
A person may receive up to $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 in total, the money sent either by check or direct deposit, depending on the applicant’s preference.
FEMA says the phone call should take about 20 minutes. There is no deadline to apply.