By Jessica Easthope
Starting Monday, April 12, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is taking applications from people who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and had the burden of expensive and unexpected funeral costs. They can get reimbursed for up to $9,000.
“It’s just gut-wrenching to realize that there are thousands of people, bodies, lying in morgues not being buried properly,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. “It’s one of the many, many, many problems average people face — poor people, working people — with this COVID disaster.”
On Monday, Senator Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference in Corona Plaza to lay out the ground rules for the program and why it matters to the immigrant-rich neighborhood.
“This community did not benefit from a lot of the relief efforts we had last year,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is one of the first programs that will allow mixed-status and undocumented families to get some semblance of relief after feeding this country, cleaning our schools, serving and holding this community up.”
According to the program, people can get reimbursed for expenses during every stage of the funeral process: from transportation to identifying a loved-one’s remains to the purchasing of a burial plot.
They’re required to provide a copy of a death certificate showing the primary or contributing cause of death was COVID-19, as well as proof of funeral expenses like receipts and contracts dated Jan. 20, 2020 and after. People can be reimbursed for expenses from that date until Dec. 31 of 2020.
As for current COVID-19 related deaths, people can get the help as they need it.
“Those now who can’t afford a funeral can get the money to pay for it now and on into the future,” Sen. Schumer said.
Lawmakers say this program won’t undo the damage done by the pandemic but it will help New Yorkers most in need.
“It also speaks to our capacity and power to organize,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said. “When we get knocked down and terrible things happen, we can organize and build community power and get families the justice they deserve.”
Father Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez, the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona, Queens, had at least 100 parishioners die of COVID-19. He says his predominantly undocumented parish is in desperate need of the program.
“This initiative is certainly a blessing and we welcome it with open arms,” Father Manuel said. “Because this is a direct support and direct benefit that these families will be taking advantage of and it would be helping them to move forward. Many of them are still jobless and this will be so helpful.”
Unemployment rates in Queens and Brooklyn are both hovering around 13 percent. Elected officials encourage everyone to gather their paperwork and make the call to FEMA.
COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number
Applications begin on April 12, 2021
844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585
Hours of Operation:
Monday – Friday
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time