A federal program that assists people with COVID-19 funeral costs underscores the burden shouldered by people whose loved ones died during the pandemic.

In Detroit, where at least 3,600 residents have died, more than 1,500 applicants have received COVID-19 funeral assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), totaling more than $9 million as of late July. Through the program, FEMA reimburses individuals who were responsible for funeral arrangements on or after Jan. 20, 2020, for a COVID-19 death. The agency began processing applications in April 2021.

Wayne County, which leads the state in total COVID-19 deaths, received the highest amount of FEMA funeral assistance — $20.6 million — of all Michigan counties. Throughout the state, 15,360 applicants were approved for FEMA funeral funds, receiving $6,150 on average. 

Detroit’s piece of the funeral assistance pie nearly mirrors its COVID-19 death rate relative to Wayne County as a whole. Detroit makes up 44% of the county’s total COVID-19 confirmed deaths, and city residents have received about 45% of the total funeral assistance awarded to Wayne County applicants so far.

FEMA has denied funeral assistance claims from Detroiters at a higher rate than from applicants across the county and state, rejecting nearly a quarter of applications from the city. Statewide, Michiganders were awarded $94.5 million in funeral assistance, with about 17% of applications denied. Typical reasons for application rejections include missing required documents on applications or that funeral expenses were covered by insurance, according to FEMA.   

How it helps: There is no deadline to apply for FEMA’s funeral assistance program. Claims for individual funerals can’t exceed $9,000, and applicants are limited to $35,500 in total assistance. Expenses eligible for reimbursement include funeral ceremonies, burial plots, caskets, urns and more. 

Who’s eligible: Eligibility for funeral assistance is dependent on three factors: 1) that the applicant is a U.S. citizen, 2) the death occurred in the U.S., and 3) the death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19. FEMA doesn’t consider income when reviewing applications, but it collects financial information for demographic purposes.

How to apply: You cannot start the application process online. Instead, you must call the toll free number 844-684-6333 — open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays — to apply and get access to an online portal. The portal is where you will be required to provide funeral home contracts, itemized expenses, identification documents and other documentation. 

For more information on the FEMA funeral assistance program, visit the agency’s frequently asked questions page.

Do you need information urgently, or would you like help accessing resources like utility and housing assistance? Text DETROIT to 67485 for on-demand info or to speak directly with an Outlier Media reporter.

Miriam (she/her) is a strong believer that journalism should hold leaders accountable and serve as a platform for marginalized groups. She can often be found at The Congregation — usually with a hot mocha in hand and finding an outlet to charge her dying laptop.