Billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 funeral assistance funds remain unclaimed

Those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 during the pandemic are eligible for federal funds to help cover funeral costs. However, an area funeral director said many have not submitted applications for reimbursement.

>>RELATED: Applications now being accepted for up to $9,000 in assistance for COVID-19 funeral expenses

As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program, applicants can receive $9,000 from the agency to help cover the costs of a funeral for a loved one who died from COVID. With over 600,000 COVID-related deaths reported in the United States since the start of the pandemic, less than 300,000 have filed requests for funeral reimbursement.

“We educate every family that has had a COVID death when we are working with them that they are going to be eligible for a reimbursement from FEMA,” Larry Glickler, owner and funeral director of Glickler Funeral Home told News Center 7′s Candace Price Thursday.

While Glickler said they try to help families as best they can, funeral homes are not able to be involved in the application process.

“We can only do so much and that would be giving them a phone number or a website,” he said.

One reason for the lower number of reimbursement request could be attributed to FEMA’s requirement that a person’s death certificate must list COVID-19 as the cause of death.

“I think early on in the pandemic, they weren’t certain that the death was caused by COVID, and I’m sure some doctors were reluctant to put it down,” Glickler said.

But a revision in the FEMA policy has brought a change in the program. Now applicants can submit a signed statement from a certifying official, either a local medical examiner or coroner, attributing the death to COVID, as long as that death took place between Jan. 20 and May 16 of 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, Glickler said his funeral home has handled around 200 deaths with COVID listed on the death certificate.

“Our case load, last year in particular dramatically increased, this year there is still a lot of COVID death,” he said.

The funeral reimbursement program does exclude some minors, non-United States citizens, and businesses or organizations. Applications are only accepted by phone and not online. More details on the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program can be found on the agency’s website.