Since online applications aren't accepted, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA admitted it was inundated with calls when it first launched its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program on April 12. TMJ4 News viewers contacted us saying they had a difficult time getting through.
A week and a half in, viewers say that's improved and they successfully applied after calling the phone line for the program (844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585).
FEMA's nationwide funeral reimbursement program is funded with $2 billion from recent federal relief acts and provides $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 per applicant if someone lost more than one family member.
"Is that enough to cover the cost of a funeral?" Consumer Investigator Kristin Byrne asked funeral director, Dr. Camelia Clarke.
"The NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association) reports the average cost of a funeral is anywhere between $7,000 to $9500, so that's within that range," said Dr. Clarke with Paradise Memorial Funeral and Cremation Services.
Dr. Clarke says her funeral home is working to keep clients aware of the financial help since you need to show FEMA proof of the costs.
"We've been notifying families that we work with to come on in and we will help you assemble all of the receipts that you need," said Dr. Clarke.
Paradise Memorial Funeral's website prominently displays the FEMA program at the top of the site. Consumers can click on the link to get the phone number for the assistance program.
FEMA says payments for things like caskets or urns, burial plots, headstones, clergy services, cremation costs, and more are covered.
"Unfortunately, we've had families who have not only experienced single deaths but who have double or triple deaths," she said.
To qualify, a person's death must have occurred in the United States (including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia).
The death certificate has to show the person's death was attributed to COVID-19 and the person applying has to be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a lawful permanent resident who had funeral expenses after January 20, 2020.
There is no deadline to apply for the program.
FEMA responded to TMJ4's request for comment saying:
The FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline has a significant amount of staff available waiting to speak to applicants. The average speed of answer once the applicant listens to the privacy act message is about 3 seconds before a live agent answers the call. At this time we have no delays, system alarms, or any other technical issues.
On Monday, April 12, the day FEMA began accepting Funeral Assistance applications, the Helpline received more than one million calls in the first 90 minutes of business. The heavy influx of calls created technical issues which were immediately addressed and rectified. Since that time, our data indicates callers have not experienced technical issues when calling to create an application.
Below is the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number:
844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585
Hours of Operation:
Monday - Friday
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time
Click on the below links for more information: