Here’s more on who is eligible for support through this program and how you can apply.

How does it work?

Flaming candles at the funeral ceremony indoor
Konstantin Tronin / Shutterstock

While the federal government has helped Americans cover funeral costs during disasters before, this initiative is set to become the largest of its kind.

It will be led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a branch of the federal government that handles disaster relief.

Biden’s recent relief bill allocated $50 billion to the agency to handle disaster-related expenses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families,” FEMA said in a statement. “At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters. We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus.”

Through the assistance program, survivors can apply for reimbursement for the purchase of a plot, burial, a headstone, clergy services, the transfer of remains, cremation or other services associated with a funeral.

Who qualifies for support?

Doctor wearing PPE suit and Surgical mask and Checking infected patient in quarantine room Covid-19.
theskaman306 / Shutterstock

To apply, you’ll have to be either a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who paid for funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020.

And those funeral expenses have to be for an individual whose death in the United States “may have been caused or was likely the result of COVID-19,” according to FEMA’s website.

You can claim up to $9,000 for an individual’s funeral expenses, but if you’ve lost more than one member of your family, you can apply for as much as $35,000 in reimbursement.

But if you’ve already received any other type of assistance for funeral costs — such as a burial benefit associated with a life insurance policy — that will reduce or entirely offset what you’re entitled to under FEMA’s program.

And you’ll only receive what you paid. So if you opted for a lower-cost funeral, you may not get the full $9,000.

Burial costs belong to just one category of the many expenses that families are saddled with when a loved one dies — which is why one of the best ways of protecting the people you love is shopping around for life insurance policy that will provide peace of mind.

What do I have to do to get money?

Worried older man sitting on couch, making phone call
fizkes / Shutterstock

FEMA has set up a dedicated toll-free hotline, along with a call center to answer questions about the program. It began taking applications Monday, Apr. 12.

Families, regardless of income, can call 1-844-684-6333 to apply. FEMA says the process takes about 20 minutes, but recommends applicants collect all the necessary information and documentation before placing the call to help speed up the process.

Once you’ve successfully applied, the agency will give you an application number and allow you to provide supporting documents either online, by fax or mail.

FEMA will ask you to provide the receipts and other documentation of what you paid for, including caskets or urns, burial plots, headstones, funerals and any other costs.

There’s currently no option to apply for assistance online. FEMA also hasn’t assigned a deadline to apply for funeral assistance and has only said it will communicate a specific deadline once one is established.

How to cut other costs during this tough time

Stressed young woman sitting at kitchen table, looking at bills
weedezign / Shutterstock

Even without funeral expenses factored in, millions of American households are struggling to make ends meet more than a year into the global pandemic.

If you don’t qualify for federal aid or you can’t wait for all the bureaucratic cogs to turn to get some relief, you have some options.

  • Find an affordable health insurance plan. Thanks to the Biden administation's COVID-relief bill, you can take advantage of generous new health insurance subsidies on healthcare.gov during the current special Obamacare enrollment period, which runs until Aug. 15.

  • Shrink your other insurance bills. You may be overpaying for your car insurance by as much as $1,100 a year. Shop around for a better deal and save yourself hundreds a month. And while you’re at it, trim another couple hundred of dollars from your budget by comparing rates to find a lower price on homeowners insurance.

  • Slash the price of your debt. Credit and debit card spending has increased in March by 45% compared to the same period last year, according to data from the Bank of America. If you’re relying on your credit card, you’re soon going to be dealing with a ton of expensive interest. Rein in your debt — and pay it off more rapidly — by rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.

And, finally, if you worry about potentially leaving your family to struggle to pay for expenses when you’re gone, signing up for an affordable life insurance policy will ensure they receive the full financial protection they deserve.

About the Author

Sigrid Forberg

Sigrid Forberg

Staff Writer

Sigrid is a staff writer with MoneyWise. A graduate of Carleton University's journalism program, she spent the better part of the last six years writing about business and retail. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking and riding her bicycle.

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