Feb. 8, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Chuck Schumer have announced that $260 million will be made available to cover funeral costs for low-income families who lost a loved one to COVID-19 last year.
On average, around $7,000 will be made available to the families of deceased New York coronavirus victims who could not afford to cover the costs associated with taking care of their remains, the lawmakers said at a joint press briefing in Corona Monday.
Payments will be available retroactively to the families of victims who died between Jan. 20, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020–although Schumer said efforts are underway to ensure the program is in place for the remainder of the pandemic.
The legislators said the funds will be available via FEMA’s Disaster Funeral Assistance program — part of the agency’s $2 billion Disaster Relief Fund.
The congresswoman said many people of color– particularly those in low-income neighborhoods–have been hit hard by the virus and many have not had the means to pay for a family member’s funeral arrangements.
She said that thousands of people who were already stretched financially have had to find ways to pay for the death of a relative.
Ocasio-Cortez said that many of these people are undocumented immigrants. She said undocumented immigrants will be eligible to tap into the fund.
The congresswoman’s district includes the Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights neighborhoods – which were once considered the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Many residents in the area have limited means and are new immigrants. Around 20 percent of Corona residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The funds will cover casket costs, mortuary services, death certificates, and cremation or interment, the legislators said.
Schumer advised applicant families to work with the city, state and their funeral director to prepare the necessary paperwork.
Some of the documentation includes verifying the next of kin’s identity, his/her relationship to the deceased, a death certificate that lists the deceased’s death as related to COVID-19 and documentation of all costs associated with the family member’s funeral.
Schumer said that an online portal will be provided to submit documents and FEMA is setting up a call center where caseworkers will help residents with applications.
“The work now centers on making sure eligible families know this is happening and know how to access the funds—that’s why our next job is to get the word out,” Schumer said.