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FEMA can reimburse funeral costs for virus victims

A new Federal Emergency Management Agency program will provide reimbursement for funeral costs of up to $9,000 for families whose loved one died from COVID-19.

Tom Rossi of Joseph Rossi and Sons Funeral Home in Niles, and a past president of the Tri-County Funeral Directors Association that covers Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties, said he and other funeral directors received word last week that FEMA will reimburse funeral expenses to families whose relative’s unexpected death was attributed to COVID-19 complications.

Rossi said the new program begins in April and will require families have a death certificate that attributes the death due to COVID-19 and other needed paperwork such as receipts for the costs of the funeral available from funeral directors.

He said to qualify the death had to have happened after Jan. 20, 2020.

The assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral, and is intended to assist with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation.

“The program will provide for the cost of the funeral up to $9,000. If the funeral was $2,000 they will pay that, or if $10,000, they will pay $9,000,” Rossi said.

Rossi said many families faced unexpected costs with the sudden deaths of family members.

Average costs for funeral expenses and a headstone are about $10,000.

Pam Baumgardner, president of the Tri-County Funeral Directors Association, said what is most important is getting the funds to the families who deserve and need the help.

She said her funeral home in Kinsman and Andover dealt with fewer than 10 percent of funerals being COVID-19 related in the past year, but noted other funeral homes handled more cases.

“There were other funeral homes who handled call after call of someone dying from COVID-19,” Baumgardner said.

Rossi said in early April a special toll-free phone number will be established for people to sign up for the FEMA funeral relief funds. He said there will also be an online video to watch.

Rossi said there was a recent online presentation featuring representatives of the National Funeral Directors Association and FEMA explaining what will be taking place.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said FEMA will now move to implement the funeral assistance program nationwide. Ryan helped secure this $2 billion in funding for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund through the COVID-19 Relief Bill and Fiscal Year 2021 spending package that was signed into law in late December 2020.

“The last thing American families need when struggling with the loss of a loved one to COVID-19 is to bear the burden of additional bills for the funeral. … I am thankful that we were at least able to take steps to lessen the strain on those who have been hardest hit by this crisis,” Ryan said.

Rossi said people can get in contact with their funeral directors to begin getting the needed paperwork in place.

“Right now is when families should begin getting all the necessary paperwork and documentation in place,” he said.

More information regarding this assistance can be found at COVID-19 Funeral Assistance at FEMA.gov.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

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