As of Dec. 6, about 226,000 people had shared in the nearly $1.5 billion that FEMA has spent on funeral costs that occurred after Jan. 20, 2020, the date of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. With the nation’s coronavirus death toll topping 800,000, it’s clear that many families who are eligible for reimbursement have yet to take advantage of the funeral benefit.
To be eligible for reimbursement, death certificates for those who died after May 16, 2020, must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19.
For deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic — from Jan. 20 to May 16, 2020 — death certificates must be accompanied with a signed statement from a medical examiner, coroner or the certifying official listed on the certificate indicating that COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing cause of death.
The percentage of individuals who have been reimbursed varies dramatically from state to state — from nearly 40% in North Carolina and Maryland to fewer than 15% in Idaho and Oregon, according to state-by-state data compiled by FEMA.
The largest states account for some of the biggest shares of the FEMA reimbursement money.
The program has paid out more than 21,000 reimbursements in California and Texas, which have both reported more than 74,000 COVID-19 deaths. Residents applied for more than $141 million in each state.
The fewest number of reimbursements have occurred in Vermont, where 123 people were awarded a total of about $704,000.
The program has been funded using federal stimulus funds, and money remains available. No online applications are allowed.
After all required documents are received and verified, it typically takes fewer than 30 days to determine if an individual is eligible, according to FEMA. Once eligibility is confirmed, applicants who request direct deposit may receive the money in a matter of days. It may take longer for applicants who request a check.