The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opens on April 12 a nationwide program to help families pay funeral costs for victims of COVID-19.

Adi Talwar

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

This article originally appeared in Spanish. Lea la versión en español aquí.

On Feb. 8, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced in New York City a $2 billion program that would be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help families with funeral and burial costs for COVID-19 victims.

The idea of creating a funeral assistance fund came up early in the pandemic. In April of 2020 community leaders noted that low-income people in Elmhurst, an early epidemic epicenter, were not only suffering from higher numbers of cases of COVID-19, but were also already seeing a disproportionate impact of funeral expenses.

In mid-April 2020, Schumer, then the Senate Minority Leader, and Ocasio-Cortez urged FEMA to approve special funeral assistance to help New Yorkers bury family members who died from coronavirus.

One year after this initial call, the COVID-19 funeral assistance program opens on April 12, so City Limits has prepared this guide on how to apply for assistance after speaking with FEMA.

First of all, who is eligible?

The answer is not simple as there are several requirements. The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, or a non-citizen national (i.e. a green card holder who hasn’t yet become a citizen), or a qualified alien (who has a visa with legal status).

The applicant must have incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, and the death certificate must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19, or was related to complications of COVID-19, or the death may have been caused by or was likely a result of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution, according to a FEMA spokesperson.

The immigration status of the deceased person does not matter, only the applicant’s immigration status. In addition, the death must have occurred in the United States, its territories, or the District of Columbia, so this program is not available to U.S. citizens who die outside the United States.

What are the steps to apply?

There is only one way to apply so far and that is by calling 844-684-6333 or TTY 800-462-7585, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

FEMA says services will be available in multiple languages including Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. The application for reimbursement for these expenses is retroactive and covers from Jan. 20, 2020, to date. No deadline has been set up for the application period at this time, says FEMA.

The application has two parts. The first is made at the time the applicant calls. A FEMA official will ask for information such as the applicant’s Social Security Number (SSN) and (if applicable) SSN of the deceased person; the applicant and deceased person’s date of birth; applicant’s address, telephone number, account number, and the routing and account numbers for the bank account to which a direct deposit would be made (if that is chosen as the preferred way for payment). There is also the option of sending the check to the applicant’s mailing address, although FEMA says the fastest way to receive funds is through direct deposit.

The applicant will also be asked about the place and address where the person died and if there was a burial or funeral insurance payment or financial assistance received from voluntary agencies (such as donations), or grants received under the CARES Act, or other sources. The FEMA fund will reimburse the amount not covered by other assistance.

Once this process is completed, the applicant is provided an application number. That number is important, FEMA emphasizes, so don’t lose it.

The second part is to provide supporting documentation to FEMA. This process can be done in several ways: by creating an account on and uploading the documents (which we will explain in the next section), or by fax, or by regular mail.

What documents do you need to provide when applying for assistance?

You must submit a copy of the death certificate which must stipulate that the person’s death was COVID-19 related.

You will also need documentation of funeral expenses incurred by the applicant (receipts, funeral home contract, etc., dated Jan. 20, 2020 or later) and documentation of other assistance received. Documentation of expenses must include the applicant’s name as responsible for the expense, the name of the deceased individual, and the value of the funeral expenses.

What is the maximum amount this assistance covers, and can an applicant claim reimbursement for more than one deceased person?

The maximum amount covered is $9,000 for one funeral and up to a maximum of $35,500 for multiple funerals (that meet the requirements described above). Again, the FEMA fund will reimburse the amount not covered by other assistance, up to those caps.

What type of funeral expenses does this assistance cover?

It covers funeral services, burial and cremation and these costs usually include transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased person; transfer of remains; casket or urn; burial plot or cremation niche; marker or headstone; clergy or officiant services; funeral ceremony; costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates. Expenses that are not related to funeral services will not be considered eligible expenses, specifies FEMA.

How long can it take to receive the assistance?

Unfortunately, FEMA would not provide an estimated processing time and said that each application is unique, so it is unknown how long it will take to process an application.

Beware of scams! FEMA will not call people to register for this program so do not disclose information if solicited over the phone. 

FEMA does expect a high volume of calls as the phone lines open, so they ask for patience from those who are trying to apply.