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On a humid August afternoon in 2020, two caskets – a silver, a white – were sitting in a hole in the ground in a small, graveside service in Travelers Rest, SC.
The family had just lost a mother and father, both in Kovid.
“They died five days apart,” said Alison Lever, who now lives in Maryland with her husband and children.
When Lever’s parents died that summer, it was a catastrophic tragedy. And there was no life insurance or burial policy to help with the costs.
“We just thought we’d have to put it on our credit card and pay it off, and that’s how we’re going to deal with it,” the public school teacher said with a smile of resignation.
But then, in April 2021, FEMA offered to reimburse the cost of the funeral – up to $ 9,000, which is about the average cost of a funeral. And that was the previous one.
The lever is applied immediately.
“If this horrible thing is going to happen, at least we’re not going to give up cash for it,” he says.
In one year of the program, the federal government paid more than $ 2 billion to cover the funeral expenses of COVID victims. More than 300,000 families received compensation, averaging $ 6,500 But less than half of the families have started applying.
Many surviving family members have been challenged or are still unaware that money is available.
For those who know
FEMA has launched a large call center in Denver, hiring 4,000 contractors. Survivors must call to begin the process, as online applications are not accepted. FEMA received one million calls on the first day, leaving many waiting.
Once Lever spoke to a representative, he began collecting death certificates and receipts from the funeral home and cemetery. He uploaded them online – and hadn’t heard from them in months.
Eventually, she called to find out that the receipts she had submitted contained various signatures – one from her husband and the other from her sister. That was a problem. Although it was a joint funeral, in order to receive the full amount per parent, a separate government receipt was required. Liver says he was disappointed, but determined to get it done “come to hell or high water.” Also, he says, it was summer vacation and it was his time.
But many did not apply or did not have time.
Jacqueline Rothenberg, FEMA spokeswoman, said the clerical challenge had discouraged some participants, especially those whose loved ones had died early in the epidemic.
“Some people, including death certificates, did not necessarily list Kovid as the cause of death,” he said. “Our taxpayers have a responsibility to the stewards to make sure that this is indeed the cause.”
Rothenberg says FEMA is trying to work with everyone. Although the agency initially spent $ 2 billion budgeted, he said there is a new pot of stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
For those who do not know
NPR has analyzed FEMA data compared to official COVID deaths as of March 15, 2022. Washington, DC, has led the country with 77% appeals for death. The southernmost clustered states had the highest participation rates, with North Carolina approaching applications for two-thirds of deaths. Other states do well below the 50% participation rate. In Oregon and Washington, less than one in three people died as a result of an application.
This is not usually a question of eligibility. There is no income limit, and life insurance does not preclude participation. And there is still no deadline. One of the few disqualifications is (detailed here) if a funeral is pre-paid.
“We need people to help us get the word out,” Rothenberg said. “We know we have more work to do.”
FEMA is launching a publicity campaign to promote the program as there is a lot of money left The agency is focusing on the most populous states of California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, and efforts are targeting vulnerable populations.
The government is also leaning towards the community groups associated with them who need to know the most about money.
Covid Survivors for Change, founded by Chris Kochhar, is helping people navigate the process, including a Facebook webinar.
“We’ve been able to connect people with some of the survivors who have already gone through that process just to help them get through it,” he said.
Many just need someone to complete the application for them.
Stephanie Smith of Carlyle, Kai., Lost her father in Covid. His mother, then 83, had no chance.
“She’s a very smart, spongy woman, but she’s never used a computer,” Smith said.
At a minimum, scanning or faxing is required to apply.
“He probably wouldn’t have tried it because the whole process would have been irresistible for him,” he says.
But Smith was able to jump with the hoop without much trouble. And $ 9,000, she says, is enough to make life easier because her mother has adapted to being a cowardly widow.
The story comes from a health reporting partnership with NPR Nashville Public Radio And Kaiser Health News (KHN)