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FEMA will help pay for funerals for COVID-19 victims

Andrew Kelly for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin is urging people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 to consider applying for financial assistance to help cover their funeral costs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it will reimburse up to $9,000 for COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.

“So many people have lost loved ones to this pandemic and coping with the loss of a family member is hard enough without needing to worry about the costs of laying that person to rest,” Galvin said in a statement. “I encourage anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 to visit my website to learn more about the help that is available to them, even if the funeral has already been paid for.”

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FEMA will begin accepting applications through a dedicated call center on April 12, and the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line — (844) 684-6333, TTY: (800) 462-7585 — will operate Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to the FEMA website.

Applicants may apply for funeral assistance for more than one COVID-19 victim, but the maximum amount they can receive is $9,000 per funeral and $35,500 per application. Those who are eligible for the funeral assistance will receive a check by mail or funds by direct deposit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people, Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said in a statement. “Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate.”

Applicants should have an official death certificate that shows the death was attributed to COVID-19. It “must indicate the death ‘may have been caused by’ or ‘was likely the result of’ COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms,” FEMA says.

Lisa Waitt Belcher, the funeral director at Waitt Funeral Home in Brockton, said the assistance will provide some relief to families who have been affected, and she hopes the money goes to those who need it the most.

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“Anything would help for a family that’s been through this,” Belcher said. “It’s hard because COVID-19 has been turning everyone’s world upside down . . . it’s been difficult. I think this could be helpful to a lot of families. I’m just hoping it goes to the people who sincerely need it, and that the process itself goes smoothly for them.”

Louis Antoine, funeral director at Riley-Antoine Funeral Home in Dorchester, said he welcomed the initiative.

“Well, if the government thinks it’s a good idea to offer that, of course it’s a good idea,” Antoine said, adding that people in hard-hit communities who’ve lost loved ones could benefit. “I don’t see a problem with that.”

But not everyone in the industry supports the program.

Lawrence M. Pushard, owner of the Pushard Family Funeral Home in Canton, said he doesn’t think FEMA should be reimbursing costs, citing what he said is an “incredible amount of money” that will become a “taxpayer expense.”

“It doesn’t sit well with me, with the amount of money,” Pushard said.

Those who apply will be expected to provide receipts and other documentation of the funeral expenses. According to the FEMA website, eligible expenses could include the costs of cremation or interment; headstones; caskets; urns; burial plots; clergy and officiant services; use of funeral home equipment and staff; transfer of remains; transportation for up to two people to identify the deceased; and costs associated with producing and certifying death certificates.

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Information on how to apply is available through Galvin’s website at sec.state.ma.us and on the FEMA website at fema.gov.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.