The Pandemic Is Not Over When It Comes To Funeral Assistance Benefits
About one year ago, President Biden informally observed that the COVID emergency was over in anticipation of social gatherings to celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. Subsequent legislative and executive action formally ended the COVID national emergency as of May 11, 2023. Various relief provisions relating to employee benefits, like COBRA continuation coverage, wound down in the aftermath of that action. More recently, legislation raising the national debt ceiling “clawed back” unspent COVID relief funds.
You might have concluded that the COVID pandemic and related government programs were behind us. But you would be wrong. FEMA's “funeral assistance” program will pay benefits related to COVID deaths until September 30, 2025!
FEMA’s program will reimburse up to $9,000.00 in funeral expenses for those dying from COVID in the United States or a U.S. territory between January 20, 2020 and May 11, 2023. The benefit reimburses an individual who incurs funeral and related expenses for the deceased that are not offset by insurance or other sources of “funeral assistance.” The applicant (but not the deceased) must meet citizenship-related requirements. Minor children cannot file for the benefit on behalf of their non-citizen parents.
An applicant for this benefit must file an application with FEMA by September 30, 2025. Applications are made over the phone (not online) by calling the Funeral Assistance Helpline at (844) 684-6333. Required documents can then be submitted online, by fax or by mail.
You will need to provide the following information when you call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline to apply for assistance:
- Social Security number for the applicant and the deceased individual
- Date of birth for the applicant and the deceased individual
- Current mailing address for the applicant
- Current telephone number for the applicant
- Location or address where the individual died
- Information about burial or funeral insurance policies
- Information about other funeral assistance received, such as donations, CARES Act grants, and assistance from voluntary organizations
- Routing and account number of the applicant’s checking or savings account (for direct deposit) – optional
FEMA has published an FAQ with important details including instructions for the filing process HERE.
It is not entirely clear what kind of standards will be applied to death certificates as to whether or not death was “likely the result of COVID-19.” Consider filing for this benefit if COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate even if it is not described as the cause of death. Also bear in mind that death certificates can be amended during the application process to clarify the cause of death as described in the FEMA FAQs.
Andrew S. Williams has practiced in the employee benefits and ERISA arena since ERISA was passed in 1974. He has been recognized by his peers through a survey conducted by Leading Lawyers Network as among the top 5 percent of Illinois lawyers in Small, Closely and Privately Held Business Law and Employee Benefit Law. He maintains a website, www.BenefitsLawGroupofChicago.com, with additional updates, commentary and analysis on benefits and employment topics.