FEMA launches COVID-19 funeral assistance program offering up to $9,000 for those who died from virus

Nation/world

Those who have lost a family member to the devastating grips of COVID-19 will soon be able to apply for help with funeral costs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced.

FEMA will begin accepting applications Monday for its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program. Reimbursement of up to $9,000 per funeral will be available for families who can prove their loved one died from COVID-19 and incurred subsequent funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, regardless of income.

Applicants will be allowed to apply for more than one deceased family member. So while FEMA is limiting the financial assistance to $9,000 per funeral service, they will reimburse up to $35,500 to cover the funerals of multiple people in the same family.

Santa Ana resident Josephine Baltazar, who lost her 64-year-old mother Lucy to COVID-19 in January, said she never realized how expensive burying a family member was until she was faced with helping make arrangements in the midst of her grief.

“We had a lot of help from family members and friends, but it is still a shock when you see those large numbers. Nowadays plots are like $14,000,” Baltazar said. “I know this program will help my father and others, too.”

Lucy Baltazar, 64, passed away in January 2021 after being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Orange County. (Josephine Baltazar)

Lucy Baltazar dedicated her life to working as a babysitter and spent her days taking care of young kids while their parents worked. She died at St. Josephs’s Hospital in Orange and last spoke to her family over FaceTime. She was buried at Fairhaven Mortuary in Santa Ana.

“My mom was the light of the party, she welcomed everyone and catered to everybody,” Baltazar said. “I don’t want anyone to feel this type of pain.”

To be eligible for the funeral assistance, the person must have died in the United States, a death certificate needs to attribute the death to COVID-19 and the applicant must be a U.S. citizen. However the person who died does not need to have been a U.S. citizen or resident.

FEMA will accept documentation including funeral home contracts and receipts as part of the application process. Those who are deemed eligible for the funeral assistance program will be reimbursed through a check by mail or direct deposit.

As of Tuesday more than 554,000 Americans have died from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including La Puente resident Ruth Ann Gallegos. She died at a Fontana hospital in October 2020 after battling coronavirus and issues with her liver. Her 21-year-old granddaughter, Justine Muniz, said that while her heart still aches, she’s grateful to FEMA for offering financial support to families.

Ruth Ann Gallegos, who died after a battle with COVID-19 in October 2020 is seen in an undated photo. (Justine Muniz)
Ruth Ann Gallegos, who died after a battle with COVID-19 in October 2020 is seen in an undated photo. (Justine Muniz)

“This is such a kind thing to do,” an emotional Muniz, who lived with her grandmother, said. “It’s something my grandmother would have done if she had the money. She would help anyone who needed her.”

Gallegos, 62, was cremated and laid to rest at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

FEMA will start taking applications Monday through a dedicated phone line. Anyone interested in applying can call 844-684-6333, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Time.

It’s unclear how long FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program will last.

The funding was approved earlier this year by Congress as part of the COVID-19 Relief Package.

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