Key Takeaways

  • Funeral financial assistance may be available to individuals who have lost family members to COVID-19 since Jan. 20, 2020.

  • Families may be eligible to receive reimbursement for up to $9,000 in covered funeral costs for a loved one.

  • Funding comes from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the president’s American Rescue Plan.

In the aftermath of a loved one’s death from COVID-19, family members and caregivers may be so overwhelmed by their grief and day-to-day responsibilities that they miss the news of this important and compassionate benefit:

The federal government is reimbursing up to $9,000 in funeral expenses for a person who has died of COVID-19 since Jan. 20, 2020. For families who have experienced more than one loss and funeral, there is a maximum reimbursement of $35,000.1

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the president’s American Rescue Plan is providing the funding for this COVID-19 Funeral Assistance, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinating the program.

While the highly infectious coronavirus has at times limited funeral options, there are still necessary costs for burial and cremation, and those can add up.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of an adult funeral, with viewing and burial, was $7,848 in 2021; it was $6,970 for a funeral with viewing and cremation. These averages exclude expenses such as cemetery and monument or marker costs.2

FEMA began the fund distribution program on April 12, 2021 and by March 15, 2022, it had distributed more than $2 billion. The average reimbursement is $6,500.1

“FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program has helped provide over 300,000 people with critical financial relief during a time of such unexpected, unimaginable, and widespread loss,” said Deanne Criswell, FEMA administrator, in a media release.

A solemn milestone and memorial

On May 9, 2022, the mournful tone of Washington National Cathedral’s bourdon bell reverberated across the nation’s capital for more than 90 minutes. The bell rang 1,000 times, each toll representing 100,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the United States.

With 1 million recorded deaths, there are still funeral reimbursements potentially available to the relatives of hundreds of thousands of people.

If you have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and want to find out more about the funeral reimbursement, here are some frequently asked questions from FEMA materials to help you get started:

How does FEMA determine eligibility for the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program?

According to FEMA, you must meet the following conditions:3

  • The death must have occurred in the United States.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020.
  • There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien.
  • The deceased person’s death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to or caused by COVID-19. If a death occurred between Jan. 20 and May 16, 2020, and the death certificate doesn’t attribute the death to COVID-19, include a signed statement from the death certificate’s certifying official, local coroner or medical examiner that links the cause of death to COVID-19.

What funeral expenses will FEMA cover?

Eligible expenses may include but are not limited to:

  • Transportation to identify the deceased individual
  • The transfer of remains
  • A marker or headstone
  • Clergy or officiant services
  • Funeral ceremony
  • The use of funeral home equipment or staff
  • Cremation or interment costs
  • A burial plot of cremation niche

Is there a date by which I must apply for FEMA assistance?

As of mid-May 2022, FEMA said there was no deadline to apply. Once you have applied, however, you have 365 days to complete your application and submit all required materials.

How do I apply for the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program?

All applications are initiated by phone. To start the process, call 844-684-6333. FEMA representatives are available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (EDT) Monday through Friday. FEMA says the call typically takes 20 minutes. You’ll find a full list of the information you will need to provide on the call in the How Does it Work? section of FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance FAQ.

Are pre-paid funeral expenses eligible for FEMA assistance?

According to FEMA's requirements, the agency "cannot provide financial assistance that duplicates any source of funding designated specifically to pay for a funeral prior to the death …". You can learn more about FEMA's funeral assistance by consulting the agency's FAQ, or by calling 844-684-6333.

How to get the latest COVID-19 developments

In early May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were increasing.4 Omicron was still the dominant variant in the United States, with lineages and sublineages that include BA.2. While Omicron spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants, the CDC says, it generally causes less severe disease.5

Checking the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one way to help you make informed decisions as we continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic. The CDC recommends monitoring its COVID-19 Community Levels site to stay current with what’s happening in your area.

“No matter what your COVID-19 Community Level, everyone should stay up to date with vaccination for the best protection against becoming severely ill from COVID-19 ... COVID Data Tracker shows that 46% of the U.S. population has received one booster, but half of those who are booster-eligible haven’t gotten one yet,” the CDC said.4

Sources

1. FEMA Tops $2 Billion of COVID-19 Funeral Assistance, Announces New Campaign to Increase Program Awareness. Found on the internet at: https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20220315/fema-tops-2-billion-covid-19-funeral-assistance-announces-new-campaign

2. 2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising as Fast as Rate of Inflation. Found on the internet at: https://nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases/id/6182/2021-nfda-general-price-list-study-shows-funeral-costs-not-rising-as-fast-as-rate-of-inflation

3. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Funeral Assistance. Found on the internet at: https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_english-funeral-assistance-flyer.pdf

4. Source: Covid Data Tracker Weekly Review. Found on the internet at:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html

5. Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know. Found on the internet at:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html