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FEMA aims to start COVID funeral reimbursement program in early April

FEMA's acting administrator noted Tuesday the agency has experience handling funeral assistance related to disasters, but never "anything at this scale or scope."

WASHINGTON — Next month, FEMA plans to start the process of reimbursing funeral costs for those who died of COVID-19, the agency's acting administrator said Tuesday.

Part of that process will include a toll-free phone number where people can apply for funeral assistance.

Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton told the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing they aren't using an online registration system for the program because they want to make sure it's handled in an empathetic way.

"With empathy being the priority, we want to be able to case manage and have that human-to-human interaction as we do this and make sure that we do it in a way that supports everyone's needs," Fenton explained.

He said FEMA is on track to launch the funeral assistance program and the 1-800 number in early April and they are currently finalizing the policy and training call center staff.

Fenton noted that FEMA has experience handling funeral assistance related to disasters, but never "anything at this scale or scope."

There have been more than 536,400 coronavirus deaths in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

It is not yet known what criteria or factors will be used to determine how much reimbursement eligible people will receive. 

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The stimulus package passed in December provided FEMA $2 billion to reimburse individuals and households for COVID-19-related funeral expenses that occurred in 2020. During Tuesday's hearing, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard said that the American rescue plan included additional funding to cover COVID-19-related funerals in 2021 as well.

FEMA's website states that people who have had COVID-19 funeral expenses are encouraged to keep and gather related documentation.