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FEMA to reimburse funeral expenses for some families of COVID-19 victims, lawmakers say

On Monday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman

On Monday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that funeral and burial costs are covered under the COVID relief lefislation for families that can't afford it. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse families up to $7,000 for COVID-related burial and funeral expenses through a $2 billion national disaster fund, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced Monday.

The funding, which was included in the December coronavirus stimulus relief bill, includes about $260 million for New Yorkers — much of it intended for primarily low-income residents in neighborhoods at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, including Queens and Long Island.

"If you are a family that couldn't afford or had to just stretch and went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might get your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000," Schumer said at a news conference in Corona. " … We are going to make sure that FEMA implements this well; that it is done in a way that is easy for families to apply and get the dollars."

Ocasio-Cortez, a Queens Democrat whose district was among those hardest hit by the virus, said many low-income families could not afford funeral and burial costs, which can often exceed $10,000.

"While this pandemic was hitting all of us, and while we were all in the same storm, we were not in the same boat," she said. "And some of us were in really choppy waters."

Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez first lobbied FEMA to approve funeral assistance in April. The agency provided similar funding for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

The new program is retroactive to funeral expenses incurred between Jan. 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020 — lawmakers hope to extend funding to 2021 in the next COVID relief bill — and is available to immigrants in the country without legal permission, officials said.

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FEMA will require expense documentation, including receipts and invoices, a death certificate and proof of the applicant's relationship to the deceased. A call center will also be established by FEMA to handle reimbursement requests.

Saeeda Dunston, executive director of the Elmcor Senior Center in Corona, first raised concerns about COVID funeral expenses last spring.

"I knew that if this many people are dying, nobody is prepared for that," she said. "No family is prepared for that. There is not enough life insurance for that."

FEMA said it is developing an implementation plan and interim policy that would determine any financial eligibility requirements for the program.

"We are working to streamline the delivery of this program to make it easier for people who lost loved ones to apply for and receive assistance," FEMA said in a statement. "It’s taking some time to develop the right process and tools to make this program easy, efficient and effective for everyone."

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