Oct. 7, 2021 By Allie Griffin
More than 15,500 New Yorkers have received a total of $107 million to help bury their loved ones who died of COVID-19.
The recipients were able to tap into the funds from the federal COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program, which recently expanded eligibility after facing pressure from two local legislators. The expansion allowed 1,600 additional people to receive funds.
The FEMA program helps families pay, or be reimbursed, for the funeral expenses of their loved ones who died of the coronavirus.
However, many people who lost family members early into the pandemic were unable to access the funds because the program required that the deceased’s death certificate list COVID-19 as the cause of death.
Early in the pandemic, hospitals had limited COVID-19 testing and knowledge of the virus’ varied presentations — which meant the official cause of death was not always listed as the coronavirus despite its probability.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Chuck Schumer pushed FEMA to loosen this requirement so more people could access funeral assistance.
“From the start, we stressed to FEMA that this program needed to put accessibility first,” Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer said in a joint statement. “We cannot have families, who have already lost so much, burdened by impossible bureaucratic obstacles.”
The agency agreed.
On June 29, FEMA changed its policy to allow applicants who lost a relative between Jan. 20, 2020 and May 16, 2020 to instead provide a signed letter from the original certifier of the death certificate or the local medical examiner or coroner certifying the cause of death was likely COVID-19.
The policy change resulted in more than 1,600 New Yorkers receiving a combined $10 million in reimbursement for burial expenses. Each applicant was able to receive up to $9,000 per burial retroactively.
“We’re grateful to FEMA for working with us to make this change so that families in need could get some of the relief they need,” the legislators said.
FEMA is still accepting applications via phone at 844-684-6333.