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FEMA to begin taking applications for funeral assistance

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We started hearing in early January that the omnibus Covid relief bill passed by Congress in December 2020 would have some type of reimbursement for funeral expenses of Covid-19 victims.  It was rumored that relief would be administered out of the funding provided to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

We’ve now learned in the last couple of weeks that the funeral assistance portion of that bill will become a reality.  Here is an interesting news story and print article from KY 3 News of Springfield, Missouri, featuring Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association Executive Director Don Otto giving a good explanation of what is to come.

We do know also, from the Covid-19 Funeral Assistance website at FEMA, which you can access here, that some of the criteria for assistance of up to $9,000 per death includes:

  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19
  • The death must have occurred after January 20, 2020
  • The applicant for these funds will be individuals and not funeral homes.

One interesting aspect that we have noticed at Funeral Director Daily is that, according to the FEMA website, ” . . We (FEMA) are not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance. . . . .” 

Here’s what Missouri’s Otto had to say about that aspect, “If they had a prepaid funeral plan (whether) it was already money set aside in a trust or there was an insurance policy that named the funeral home as the beneficiary. If there was a GoFundMe account or a charitable organization or another branch of government they won’t get reimbursed for that.” 

However, Otto said if your loved one had an insurance policy that named a family member as the beneficiary, you will still qualify for assistance. He also said if you believe that your loved one died of COVID-19 but is not listed on the death certificate, you can ask the patient’s doctor to amend it.

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) will be holding a webinar this afternoon entitled FEMA Covid-19 Funeral Assistance:  Connecting with Families and Your Community.  This a free webinar for NFDA members and you can access a registration form here.

Funeral Director Daily take:  From our point of view, there are a couple of items where funeral homes can be of big help to their families with this federal legislation.  First of all, an e-mail, text message, or postcard to all of the families you have served from January 20, 2020, up until the present date notifying them of the program would certainly be a help to some who will not be aware of this program.

I don’t know, but you would expect the federal government to send a notice to all deaths from that time period.  There should be a way to access that information for them via Social Security deaths reported and their next of kin’s addresses, but I just don’t know.  So, I would guess that funeral home notifications may very well be appreciated by these families.

Secondly, funeral homes may be able to help in making sure that the death certificate mentions “Covid” as a cause, if it truly was.  This is a little more tricky as some physicians are both difficult to reach and difficult to have second guessed.  While families may believe their loved one died of Covid, a physician may have a different opinion. . . . and I would not want to be the funeral home caught in the middle of a $9,000 payment on this issue.

Finally, as with many things in government, I’m somewhat at a loss at to who this bill is trying to help.  It’s not aimed at funeral homes, because they are not allowed to apply for accounts receivable, although some families who may owe you for services may be helped which will in turn help the funeral home receive cash.  And, some client families, if they had a pre-financed plan, they are not allowed to be reimbursed either.  However, it appears that it a family simply paid from their own savings account or from a life insurance policy that paid a family beneficiary, they are allowed to seek reimbursement.

Over my years as a funeral director, I always told people it was “smart thinking” and “good financial sense” to pre-arrange and pre-finance their funerals.  Anecdotally, I also believed that it was the “Blue Collar” middle-class people that did this most often.  They wanted to “do the right thing” and make sure that they took care of their own obligations.  People with less income or assets, simply could not afford to pre-finance, and those with a moderate amount of wealth simply reasoned that they will pay a funeral bill when it came due and didn’t bother to pre-finance.

So, at least of what I appear to know of this FEMA benefit, unless there is an income threshold that I don’t know about, those middle-class people who did the “right thing” and set aside their future funeral obligations in a pre-arrangement are the only ones who do not benefit.  I’m not so sure that is fair.

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