Thousands in SC qualify for up to $9,000 to pay for COVID-related funeral expenses – Greenville News

Families who had someone die due to COVID-19 can get up to $9,000 to help pay for funeral costs.

The federal benefits, which began in April, are being used by a large percentage of people who qualify, said C. Brad Evans, president of the state’s funeral director association and owner of Harris Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Abbeville.

“Some people don’t really know if this is really real,” Evans said.

It is real and can be a relief to families, he said.

How I found some peace: COVID delayed my brother’s funeral, but we finally got to grieve together.

To apply for the benefits, visit https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance or call 844-684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Translation services are available.

The phone call may take about 20 minutes and additional documentation may be required, such as a copy of a death certificate and receipts from a funeral home.

More than 9,500 people in South Carolina have had their deaths attributed to COVID-19 and would qualify for assistance.

About 3,450 registrations have been submitted in the state, according to FEMA figures.

Lockdown and widowhood: Getting to the other side of grief during COVID-19

The average amount, nationwide, is around $7,000 per application. In all, about 170,000 applications have gone through the program.

There are no income requirements, so the money can go to anyone rich or poor who had a family member die of COVID-19. The payment only goes to one person in the family, it can be distributed to others afterward, Evans said.

The assistance is not just for direct funeral home costs, but also for travel to funerals and other costs associated with a funeral, said Doug McDougald III, vice-president and funeral director of McDougald Funeral and Cremation Services. He is also a policy board member of the National Funeral Directors Association.

McDougald said his funeral home sent letters to everyone who had a funeral since the pandemic, alerting them to the possibility of the benefits.

Funeral directors can’t fill out the applications for people but they can provide assistance like pointing people to the federal application process and providing copies of bills, he said.

“I am reminding people that if they were, or they feel like they, were involved in a COVID-related funeral expense, to go to the assistance page and at least inquire, let them tell you yea or nay,” McDougald said.

To qualify for up to $9,000 in assistance:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.

  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020.

  • There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines, more details available at https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance

There is one catch, Evans said, but it hasn’t applied to the vast majority of the families Evans’ funeral home has contacted about the reimbursement process.

If someone had prepaid expenses at a funeral home, those pre-paid expenses could reduce the benefit amount if the funeral expenses are $9,000 or less.

The average funeral costs in South Carolina in 2019 were around $7,500 for a burial and $5,000 for cremation, according to figures from the National Funeral Directors Association.

About $2 billion has been set aside by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund the assistance, which is a program similar to other disaster burial expense programs for hurricanes and other disasters but this is on a larger and national scale.

There is additional funding available to FEMA if those funds are exhausted.

How COVID changed the funeral industry

Dealing with the pandemic accelerated the industry by several years, Evans said.

Technology like live-streaming existed but was relatively rare, but within months it had become commonplace if not standard in the industry, he said.

That meant a lot of upfront costs for funeral homes and those costs, at his funeral home and for other directors he has spoken to, were not passed onto clients, Evans said.

There were also extra PPE costs, new safety equipment and longer hours to set up alternative funeral arrangements, he said.

COVID funeral assistance: What you need to know about FEMA program and how you can apply

McDougald said many of the traditional funeral practices, like services in a chapel, are once again available but the option of alternative practices remains.

His funeral home has a new outdoor court at its Pendleton location, and the cameras and live streaming options are still available.

“Our role as funeral professionals is to create the best experience for families as we can when they are in grief,” he said. “We didn’t want to deny families this important process of grief because of COVID.”

McDougald offered some advice for anyone grieving over the pandemic’s toll.

“I would tell people to take care of themselves,” he said. “They’re the most important at that time, so whatever works for them is what’s right. It might not be best for 200 people but they should try to find that niche of what works for them.”

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Mike Ellis tells South Carolina stories with a focus on Easley, Powdersville and Pickens County along with faith and religion. He’s always looking for the next story that people need to read, please send any tips or feedback to mellis@gannett.com

Families who had someone die due to COVID-19 can get up to $9,000 to help pay for funeral costs.

The federal benefits, which began in April, are being used by a large percentage of people who qualify, said C. Brad Evans, president of the state’s funeral director association and owner of Harris Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Abbeville.

“Some people don’t really know if this is really real,” Evans said.

It is real and can be a relief to families, he said.

How I found some peace: COVID delayed my brother’s funeral, but we finally got to grieve together.

To apply for the benefits, visit https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance or call 844-684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Translation services are available.

The phone call may take about 20 minutes and additional documentation may be required, such as a copy of a death certificate and receipts from a funeral home.