FEMA changed its enforcement requirements after months of discussions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senator Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) on how to make it easier for people to apply.
FEMA rolled out the $ 2 billion pandemic funeral assistance program in April, using money from a $ 2.3 trillion spending program that former President Donald Trump signed in December 2020. FEMA has implemented similar programs after hurricanes and other natural disasters, but the scale of the Covid-19 reimbursement program has raised concerns internally that people will try to rip off the system.
As of May, more than 200,000 people had requested reimbursement of up to $ 9,000 per family for funeral expenses related to Covid-19. FEMA said in a statement Tuesday that the agency has awarded more than $ 447 million in assistance to 66,800 applicants with proven financial need.
But as POLITICO recently reported, eligibility was limited to those with death certificates indicating that the death of a family member was caused by, “may have been caused by” or “was probably the result of ”Covid-19 or Covid-19 type symptoms.
Thousands of Americans seeking Covid-19 funeral assistance have been denied help because death certificates for their family members do not list Covid-19. At the start of the pandemic, doctors were still learning to diagnose the disease and testing was limited. Many death certificates during this period did not include Covid-19.
Until this week, FEMA had told claimants in this situation that they needed to have death certificates amended in order to receive a refund. But many doctors, medical examiners and coroners are unwilling to change a person’s official cause of death unless they have definitive proof.
Now families do not need to have the death certificate amended. But they must submit a signed letter from those same medical examiners and coroners linking the death to the virus. It’s unclear how long this process could take, or how forensic scientists and coroners will determine if they can link the death to the virus.
For deaths after May 16, 2020, individuals must submit a death certificate that attributes the death of a family member to Covid-19.