Get help with COVID-related funerals
Hagadone News Network | May 25, 2022 1:00 AM
As of Monday, nearly 5,000 Idahoans had died from COVID-19.
In April 2021, The Federal Emergency Management Agency began offering a program to reimburse up to $9,000 to help pay for COVID victims' funeral expenses.
The assistance is retroactive. Income and life insurance are not obstacles, although prepaid funerals do not qualify. FEMA has not yet set a filing deadline.
A Post Falls family used the reimbursement after losing their patriarch, Fred "Papa" Ellis, to COVID last September.
Ellis' daughter, Linda Greene, said it was very easy to submit the paperwork.
"We just saved all our receipts and submitted them online," she said. "We paid for everything on one credit card so it would be easier. It took about a month from when we started the process until we received a check for full reimbursement of funeral costs. For us, that was about $3,800 because we chose cremation."
She said being able to put the expenses on a card that was reimbursed was a godsend.
"We were nervous that something would go wrong, but it didn't," she said. "It was a pretty smooth process."
Ellis' widow and Greene's mom, Jeanne Ellis, said families have enough on their plates when they're going through a COVID death.
"For us, Fred was only 63," Jeanne said. "It took three weeks from when he first contracted it until he died on Sept. 23. It was very, very fast. When he went into the hospital, I had no idea I'd never see him in person again. We have six children and he paid the bills. He was the main provider. I didn't know where the money was going to come from. I was just trying to get from one day to the next."
Many Idahoans haven't capitalized on the resource. According to FEMA data released March 15, only 1,748 applications had been submitted and 1,062 applications had been awarded. That amounted to just more than $6 million in reimbursements in Idaho.
In the populous state of California, more than 38,000 applications have been received and of those, 26,054 have been awarded. The total of reimbursements is more than $168 million.
In contrast, the sparsely populated state of Wyoming has submitted 653 applications; 441 have been awarded and the total reimbursements paid is a bit more than $2.4 million.
Jason Armstrong, funeral director for Coeur d’Alene Cremation and Funeral on Ironwood Drive, said because the reimbursements are paid after the fact, his funeral chapel doesn't know which families have applied for the FEMA funds.
"We often will tell people where we know COVID was involved in the passing, we’ll tell them to check that out with FEMA,” he said. "Some of the earlier releases from FEMA were that the program was not being utilized as much as they had anticipated."
Jeanne said she doesn't think most people know the funds are available.
"We didn't know until after Fred passed," she said. "We feel lucky someone told us about it."
Greene said that not long after their family had received their reimbursement, she and her mom were waiting in a doctor's office and overheard a man on the phone in the hallway begin to cry.
"Of course, my mom runs out to try and comfort him," Greene said. "He tells us he just lost his mom and girlfriend to COVID and had two funerals to cover and he didn't have any money. It was all too much. Everything.
"When we told him about the reimbursement, he was stunned. He had no idea. We had to convince him it was real. He said that he thought he was going to lose his home to pay for the funerals. That was a special moment for us — being able to help someone in the same situation. Something good."
FEMA may provide COVID-19 funeral assistance to you if:
• You are a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified non-citizen
• The death occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories and the District of Columbia
• The death was attributed to COVID-19
• You are responsible for the eligible funeral expenses incurred on or after Jan. 20, 2020
What is covered:
• Funeral services
• Costs associated with producing death certificates
• Costs due to local or state government
• Transportation for up to two people to identify the deceased
• Transfer of remains
• Casket or urn
• Burial plot
• Marker or headstone
• Funeral ceremony
• Funeral home equipment or staff
To apply, call 844-684-6333 between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance applications must be completed with a FEMA representative. You cannot apply online.