The COVID-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families. With many families struggling through the pandemic with loss of jobs and income the added expense of providing a funeral for a loved one that succumbed to the virus has been a heavy burden.
This has been especially true for working class neighborhoods like East Boston, but a new program by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aims to ease some of those financial burdens.
Last week FEMA launched a new program that began providing financial assistance for funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020 for deaths related to COVID to, “help ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the pandemic”.
Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the new program will reimburse local residents who lost a loved one to COVID up to $9,000 for funeral expenses.
“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate.”
Over at the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home, Funeral Director Joseph Ruggiero III has been contacting families and providing information on the new program.
“It hasn’t been an easy time for anyone,” said Ruggiero. “This new program will help families recover some funds for the unexpected death of a loved one during the pandemic. The timing couldn’t be better for many families here. With unemployment benefits set to expire and other benefits running out this new FEMA program can help ease a big financial burden.”
Both Ruggiero and Dayle Magrath Vecchione of the Magrath Funeral Home on Chelsea Street are prepared to help families navigate the FEMA paperwork if need be.
“I think it’s a wonderful program for people to take advantage of,” said Vecchione. “I think it’s good because a lot of people have definitely been caught off guard and certainly not prepared for a loved one dyring from COVID. We had a lot of unexpected deaths here and this program can be a big help to many of our families.”
Like Ruggiero, Vecchione said her funeral home’s staff will be on hand to help people fill out and file the necessary paperwork for the benefits.
“We can sit down and help navigate the process cause we are familiar with a process like that and have experience dealing with paperwork,” she said.
Ruggiero added that families can also contact his funeral home for help because it is up to the families to apply for the funds and not the funeral director.
“But we can definitely help throughout the process,” he said. “If you have COVID-19 related funeral expenses, we encourage you to keep and gather documentation.”
Ruggiero said types of information should include an official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Other important documents are funeral expenses documents that include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
“Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs,” said Ruggiero. “This is important because we are not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies, or other sources.”
To be eligible for FEMA’s 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. FEMA began accepting applications Monday, April 12 and additional Information may be found at https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance