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FEMA funeral reimbursement program ripe for fraud

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — If you lost a loved one to COVID-19, the federal government has a plan to reimburse you for expenses related to their funeral and burial.

FEMA is launching its $2 billion funeral reimbursement program on Monday to cover up to $9,000 per funeral. However, as with all of these multi-billion dollar federal programs, the potential for fraud is high.

FEMA is setting up an 800-number for families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 starting on Monday to apply for reimbursement. Before it’s even launched, FEMA is issuing a fraud alert, warning that scammers are targeting the very people the program is meant to serve.

Fraud alert on FEMA website

Roger Meyers lost his 69-year-old wife Barb in December after a months-long battle with COVID-19. In addition to his heartbreaking loss, he also had the added burden of paying for her funeral.

“There are other people out there that it was a complete burden, that really need this money,” Meyers said.

However, anyone who suffered a loss due to COVID-19 is eligible for reimbursement.

“What’s your understanding of how this program is going to work?”

“That’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t think anybody really knows entirely. Our national associations, our cemetery associations — we’re just trying to figure it out ourselves,” said Phil Schmitz of George Boom Funeral Home.

Funeral homes cannot apply on behalf of a family, but they will help provide records, such as bills and death certificates, which must have COVID-19 listed as a cause on the document.

“What’s happened in the last six months was COVID was an underlying cause, and now it’s a primary cause of death,” Schmitz said.

FEMA will reimburse funeral costs for multiple COVID-19 deaths in the same family for a maximum of $35,000.

“We’ve seen a lot of families – I would say a third in the last year – last part of last year that had multiple family members pass away,” Schmitz said.

FEMA anticipates issues such as multiple family members submitting for reimbursement for the same death. However, funeral directors are more worried about scammers going after a grieving loved one’s personal information.

“My biggest concern is that people are not getting scammed. If you get called by somebody saying we’ll help you fill out a report, or whatever, that’s probably not a true thing,” Schmitz said.

For Meyers, financial assistance only goes so far.

“The money is not going to replace Barb, obviously. You could give me $100,000 and it still wouldn’t replace Barb. It wouldn’t matter to me, the money is not the issue. It’s missing someone–that’s the issue–and dealing with that on a daily basis, Meyers said.

Schmitz stresses the importance of having all documentation ready before you call the FEMA hotline.

To be eligible for funeral assistance, you must meet these conditions:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020.
  • There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.

COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number

Applications begin on April 12, 2021
844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585

Hours of Operation:
Monday – Friday
8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Time

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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