FEMA told families with missing documents that they must have their parent’s death certificate amended in order to receive payment. But the process of modification is cumbersome, and doctors and medical examiners object to changing the cause of death unless there is definitive proof – such as test results – that a person has succumbed to Covid-19. The result is that many people in real financial need who have lost loved ones to the virus cannot get help. This is another inequality in a pandemic that has caused disproportionate damage to marginalized Americans.
People requesting funeral assistance have informed FEMA in recent weeks of resistance by medical staff to changing death certificates, the two senior administration officials said.
“It’s not like I can go back and test them now,” said Priya Banerjee, a medical examiner with experience in dealing with Covid-19 cases. “I wouldn’t change it without having proof. Covid is another medical diagnosis that needs to be proven, not assumed. I also wouldn’t want to help people make a false statement. It should go to people who qualify. “
The reluctance of doctors and medical examiners to change death certificates will likely delay or severely limit Americans’ ability to receive FEMA assistance, raising questions about how the agency will ensure people get it. money they are entitled to while preventing widespread fraud. Senior FEMA officials have long been concerned about the possibility of fraudsters submitting forged death certificates.
A FEMA spokesperson told POLITICO that the agency’s current financial aid requirements amounted to an “interim policy.”
In recent weeks, FEMA officials have spoken about the issue with Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other senior agency officials, as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN. Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose voters were among the hardest hit in the early months of the pandemic and who lobbied for funeral program.
These conversations focused on ways to reduce the burden on those seeking help – possibly by changing the amendment policy, which particularly affects New Yorkers. The virus surged into the city at the start of the epidemic in the United States, and many people died there before the CDC began advising hospitals to use “Covid-19” on death certificates . FEMA has so far allocated $ 10 million to New Yorkers.
“We are actively working with FEMA to ensure empathy and flexibility at the heart of this assistance,” Lauren Hitt, communications director for Ocasio-Cortez, said in a statement.
One of the senior administration officials who spoke to POLITICO said Democrats on Capitol Hill initially pushed FEMA to accept death. certificates that list the symptoms most commonly associated with Covid-19, such as pneumonia. FEMA quickly rejected the request, the official said, as these symptoms could also be associated with a host of other viruses and illnesses beyond Covid-19.
FEMA is also considering allowing people whose loved ones died in the spring of 2020, but who do not have Covid-19 on their death certificate, to submit a certified letter from the original physician or forensic pathologist explaining how the person is deceased. FEMA has accepted similar letters in the past – including statements after Hurricane Katrina that confirmed an individual’s death was linked to the storm.