Help available for funerals after COVID deaths, but many haven’t applied

In this file photo, Jed J. Dunnichay, Funeral Director for Newcomer, talks with a potential client Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 at the Newcomer Cremations, Funerals and Receptions location in Centerville. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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In this file photo, Jed J. Dunnichay, Funeral Director for Newcomer, talks with a potential client Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 at the Newcomer Cremations, Funerals and Receptions location in Centerville. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Less than half of Ohio families who lost someone have applied

Less than half of Ohio families who lost a loved one to COVID-19 have applied for reimbursement for funeral expenses offered by the federal government.

Many might not know about the program, but those familiar with the process say it is straight-forward and encourage more eligible families to apply.

The American Rescue Plan established the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Fund through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will reimburse up to $9,000 of funeral costs for families who lost somebody to COVID-19 at any time during the pandemic.

“The average funeral in America is only $7,700,” said Ed Michael Reggie, founder and CEO of funeralocity.com. “So it’s a very generous benefit. And there’s no means testing.”

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Over 26,000 Ohioans have died from COVID-19. But only 11,849 Ohio families have applied for funeral funds through FEMA, of which 7,715 have been approved, as of Nov. 17.

Nationwide, over 770,000 Americans have died. Since FEMA began accepting applications in April, the agency has provided over $1.3 billion in funeral assistance to about 215,000 applicants.

Some of that gap can be accounted for by the fact that FEMA cannot duplicate assistance provided by other sources, such as burial insurance.

“I can tell you just from talking to funeral directors and talking to people, I think the No. 1 reason people don’t apply is ignorance that this plan exists,” Reggie said.

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Melissa Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Funeral Directors Association, said her group encourages Ohio funeral directors to share information about this opportunity with families they serve.

The other reason families might not apply is fear of red tape and not qualifying, Reggie said.

“But everyone qualifies who can produce two things to the federal government: One, a death certificate that shows that COVID contributed to the death, and two, a receipt from the funeral provider for the funeral,” he said. “That’s all you need.”

Riverside-resident Tierra Cooper lost her husband, Eberechukwu Cooper, in December after a months-long fight with COVID. She said her experience applying for about $2,000 in reimbursement for his cremation was straightforward.

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“I would say it was a smooth process,” she said. “And it was very helpful. It was almost like a break that I needed because my husband was our provider and I was a homemaker. So it was a relief.”

Cooper said the FEMA employees were very empathetic and helpful.

“At the time, we still hadn’t received our taxes refund,” she said. “So I was like, I don’t know what we’re going to do. And it came right in enough time, and I was able to actually pay rent.”

How to apply

Eligible applicants may apply for COVID-19 funeral assistance by calling FEMA at 844-684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. There is no online application.

Funeral expenses that are covered include cremation, interment, casket or urn, marker or headstone, and clergy or officiant services. While COVID-19 Funeral Assistance may be a reimbursement, applicants are not required to pay funeral expenses in full prior to receiving assistance.

Applicants may also visit fema.gov/disaster/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance for more information.

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