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$7,000 reimbursement for COVID-19 funerals: Who it's for, how to apply and other details

If a relative died from the coronavirus, the government may help pay for the funeral and burial costs. Here's what the application process will look like.

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Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both New York Democrats, said on Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Administration will begin reimbursing low-income families for coronavirus-related funeral and burial costs. 

The measure was part of the December COVID-19 relief bill, which also included a second stimulus check of up to $600. The bill includes $2 billion for people who have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and may have gone into debt to pay for the funeral and burial of a loved one. That funding has now been approved, and FEMA is setting up the program to reimburse families in need, the lawmakers said. 

Here's everything we know so far about the funeral reimbursement funds, including who is eligible and how to apply. 

Who can get reimbursed for COVID-19 related funeral expenses?

We don't yet know exactly who will be eligible to receive these funds, or if it will be based solely on income level or some other set of factors. 

"If you are a family who couldn't afford or had to just stretch, went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000 from FEMA," Schumer said at a press event on Monday.

The funding will be available for funeral costs incurred between Jan. 20, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, but not for funerals that took place in 2021, a FEMA spokesperson told CNET. Schumer estimated that more than $200 million of that funding will go to New York, particularly to epicenters of the virus like Corona, Queens.

How much money can you get reimbursed?

The bill says that FEMA will reimburse families up to $7,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn't yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds. 

In 2019, the median national cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault or casket is included (which is often required by a cemetery), the median cost went up to $9,135. And that doesn't take into account cemetery, monument or headstone costs, or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or an obituary fee, the NFDA noted.

When and how can you apply for COVID-19 funeral reimbursement funds?

The details are still being worked out, but Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez said that FEMA is creating a hotline to help provide information to people seeking the reimbursement. In the meantime, they recommend families begin gathering any documentation of funeral costs, such as billing records from the mortuary, cemetery or other services. 

"FEMA is working quickly to finalize an implementation plan and interim policy to support the delivery of funeral assistance to eligible citizens," a FEMA spokesperson said in an email. "To help administer the program, FEMA is hiring contract support through the federal acquisitions process to help administer the program. The contract is open for proposals until Feb. 8. After a contract is awarded, FEMA will make an announcement later this year when applications are being accepted."

It's likely that this process could take a while to get sorted out. 

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What kind of information will you need to apply? 

Again, we still don't know all of the details, but it's likely that you'll need to have documentation of funeral costs such as invoices or billing records from the mortuary, crematorium or cemetery to provide to FEMA to get reimbursed for some or all of those costs. 

It's also likely you'll need an original copy of an official death certificate. You can get one by contacting the state or county vital records office. Sometimes a funeral home or a third-party provider can also request this for you. 

You can likely reach out to the businesses you worked with to receive an invoice if you didn't keep one initially. If you did much of the preparation yourself, you should collect receipts or bank statements. We recommend keeping these in one organized place for when you need them.  

Has FEMA ever done something like this before? 

Yes. Under the Stafford Act, FEMA can offer help with funeral costs if the deaths were caused by a presidentially declared disaster. This was the case after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. After three hurricanes hit Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico in 2017, FEMA paid about $2.6 million in response to 976 approved applications for related funeral expenses, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is on a far larger scale than anything FEMA has provided assistance for in the past, a spokesperson told CBS. The agency has already provided more than $56.2 billion in the fight against the pandemic, the spokesperson said. 

"We understand the financial and emotional turmoil COVID-19 has brought to our nation, and we are committed to bringing funeral assistance to the American people as quickly as possible," a FEMA spokesperson said. "We are working to streamline the delivery of this program to make it easier for people who lost loved ones to apply for and receive assistance. It's taking some time to develop the right process and tools to make this program easy, efficient and effective for everyone." 

For more, check out what we know about a third stimulus check so far, and everything to know about the COVID-19 vaccine