Some Arizonans face long waits for FEMA COVID-19 funeral expenses reimbursement

More than a billion dollars has been given out by the federal government to help people pay for funerals for COVID-19, but there is quite a bit of documentation that a person has to have to be reimbursed, which includes a death certificate citing COVID-19.

For some who are trying to cover their expenses while bills sit on a credit card, reimbursement could be months away. Jennifer Cunningham said she thinks she may have to wait until 2022 before the reimbursement comes.

"He was really funny," Jennifer Cunningham said, remembering her late husband, Ricky.

In August, Jennifer said Ricky died of COVID-19, while she was in the hospital on a ventilator, fighting COVID-19.

"It wasn't 'till I came home and he wasn't here [that] it hit me," said Jennier.

Now, as Jennifer recovers from COVID-19's long-term health impacts, she is starting to plan Ricky's memorial.

"I really don’t like to cry in front of people, and I know it’s going to be really emotional," said Jennifer.

To help with funeral expenses, FEMA started disbursing assistance. Applications have been submitted for a little over one in four covid deaths in Arizona, and according to FEMA officials, they have paid out money to over 59% of the 5,328 applicants. That means 39% are still waiting, and just 55 people have been denied.

The documents they need: proof that COVID-19 was the cause of death. Jennifer is waiting for the final Medical Examiner's report before she can even begin an application.

"Credit cards that we had to put money on for the cremation that I owe, that I have to pay. It's going to be difficult to pay the payments," said Jennifer.

The average reimbursement in arizona is about $5,000, which is actually $1,500 less than the national average. FEMA isn't the only way to get funeral expenses reimbursed, as Maricopa County is also reimbursing, with county officials saying they have given out nearly $200,000 to 180 households.

Full FEMA statement on COVID-19 Funeral Expenses Reimbursement

After applying for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance by calling the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline, the FEMA representative will provide a FEMA application number. The applicant will need to include this number on any documentation they submit to FEMA, or if they call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline to ask questions about their application.

Within 3 to 5 business days after applying, FEMA will send a letter with information about COVID-19 Funeral Assistance and a list of documents that must be submitted.

If using a relay service such as a videophone, Innocaption or CapTel, the applicant will need to provide FEMA with the specific number assigned to them for that service so that FEMA can contact them.

FEMA eligibility determinations are generally made in fewer than 30 days from the time all required documentation is received and verified. Once an eligibility determination is made, applicants who request direct deposit may receive the funds in a matter of days. It may take longer if the applicant has chosen to receive COVID-19 Funeral Assistance by check, which is sent by mail.

To avoid delays applicants are encouraged to provide documentation verifying the death was attributed to COVID-19, along with proof of funeral expenses and proof of other funeral assistance received, as soon as possible. Once FEMA receives all your documentation, we will verify and validate it as part of the application review process.

FEMA approves additional funeral assistance applications each week. Some cases have taken more time as applicants seek and submit needed documentation. The average time it takes to process claims, including obtaining needed documentation from applicants is about 67 days. There is no application deadline or end of this assistance at this time, and we encourage individuals who have paid for the funeral expenses of a loved one who passed away due to COVID to apply for financial reimbursement by calling 844-684-6333.

Maricopa County COVID-19 Funeral and Burial Assistance

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