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California congresswoman announces $7K a person for COVID funeral expenses

Funeral home workers move the corpse of a woman who allegedly died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Medellin, Colombia, on August 12, 2020. (Photo by JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Wednesday announced $2 billion in special Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for families to afford funerals for their loved ones who died of COVID-19.

This program will allow families to be reimbursed up to $7,000 for funeral expenses. The funds will be retroactive from Jan. 20 to Dec. 31, 2020. Those interested in participating in the program will need expense documentation, a death certificate, and other personal information documents to show to FEMA. The funding does not cover deaths in 2021.  

"No one should struggle to afford a proper funeral for a loved one," Lee said in a statement. "During this time of unprecedented pain and economic hardship, it’s a moral imperative that the federal government step in and provide relief."

And as of now, the program is not up and running and just who is eligible and the path to access the funding has not yet been worked out. 

Lawmakers said that FEMA is creating a hotline to help provide information to people seeking reimbursement. In the meantime, they recommend families begin gathering any documentation of funeral costs, such as billing records from the mortuary, cemetery or other services. 

Lee added she will be reaching out to her Oakland and East Bay constituents as more information becomes available.

The program replicates the funding used for funeral assistance after Hurricane Katrina and was inspired by past legislation introduced by Lee and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) in May. 

The measure was part of the December COVID-19 relief bill, which also included a second stimulus check of up to $600. The bill includes $2 billion for people who have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and may have gone into debt to pay for the funeral and burial of a loved one. 

In 2019, the median national cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault or casket is included, the median cost went up to $9,135. 

Pamela Jones of Los Angeles County said her 78-year-old mother died on Dec. 28 and the funeral cost about $10,000. She said she hasn't yet paid for the headstone. 

"It would be very helpful," she said. "It's very expensive." 

To date, more than 2 million people have died of COVID worldwide, nearly 470,000 people have died in the United States and 44,000 people have died in California. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez