Starting today, new funding available for families struggling to pay for COVID-19 funerals

Starting today, April 12, eligible people can apply for up to $9,000 in FEMA aid to cover the cost of deaths related to the coronavirus.

Sherry Tutt poses for a portrait at her apartment complex on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Sherry's mother, Doris LaVon Sims, and her sister, LaKecial Tutt, both died of the coronavirus on June 9.
Sherry Tutt poses for a portrait at her apartment complex on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Sherry’s mother, Doris LaVon Sims, and her sister, LaKecial Tutt, both died of the coronavirus on June 9.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)

After losing her mother and sister to COVID-19 within hours last summer, Sherry Tutt of Dallas braced herself for the itemized bill that came with ensuring they had a proper funeral. She didn’t expect to see a COVID-19 fee on the list.

Many funeral homes, whose employees have been “last responders” during the pandemic, added the charge to cover the costs of handling the body of a COVID-19 victim.

“Not only was it a slap in the face that my mom and sister passed,” Tutt said. “But to inherit an additional fee? It was like, ‘Wow, should we be responsible for this?’”

Tutt is one of thousands of Texans reeling from the double whammy of grieving and covering the expenses that follow untimely deaths due to COVID-19. The inability of nonprofits to handle the load and the lack of government assistance have left many with limited options — until now.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration announced last month that starting Monday, families can be reimbursed for up to $9,000 in COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020, and as long as applicants meet certain requirements, such as citizenship.

“I know we have to use insurance one day for our loved ones,” said Tutt, who’s looking into applying for the FEMA aid. “But the state — someone else — should have had to pick up the funeral expenses, [as] opposed to the grieving families.”

Nowhere to turn

Rachel Cantu of New Braunfels also thought the government would have covered more of the funeral costs for her husband, Felix Cantu, who spent 24 years in the Marines.

Veterans’ families can receive up to $300 for funeral services and up to $796 for a burial plot outside a national cemetery, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cantu said she had to scrape together money for other costs — the funeral home’s COVID-19 fee, embalming and other services — on her own and with the help of $700 from a GoFundMe campaign.

Rachel and Felix Cantu of New Braunfels, Texas, pictured in a courtesy photo. Felix Cantu died of COVID-19 in 2020.
Rachel and Felix Cantu of New Braunfels, Texas, pictured in a courtesy photo. Felix Cantu died of COVID-19 in 2020.

“My husband always used to say, ‘You don’t ever have to worry about spending a cent on me,’” she said. “Well, I did have to worry about a lot of things financially.”

She said she’s excited about the FEMA reimbursement and plans to apply.

“I pray that [FEMA] helps me out,” Cantu said in a text message.

Aside from the federal aid, there is no state funding available to families of COVID-19 victims, though Texas does assist families who are burying crime victims or fetal remains.

Nonprofits have attempted to help families dealing with sudden loss, but they’ve been overwhelmed by the staggering number of deaths in Texas and across the nation — nearly 50,000 and 600,000, respectively.

The national #GiveTogetherNow effort partnered with Dallas-based nonprofits to provide funding to families affected by the pandemic. Antong Lucky, national engagement director for Urban Specialists in Dallas, said they pledged to provide $500 to each of the first 500 Dallas-Fort Worth families who applied. The slots filled up within minutes.

“We had over 6,000 people sign up for relief, and we could only pay 500,” Lucky said. “It just spoke to the people who were really, really hurt during this pandemic.”

Jason Dyke is the founder of Carson’s Village, a Dallas-based nonprofit that provides grief support. He said since April 2020, about one in four families who contacted the organization had a loved one who died of COVID-19.

“We have a lot of referrals coming out of New York City, we had a call from Georgia for COVID, we’ve had calls from all over Texas for COVID,” Dyke said.

‘Last responders’

Funeral homes have also spread themselves thin to handle the economic and health risks of the pandemic.

Elizabeth Carrillo, whose husband owns Carrillo Funeral Homes, said people often forget the risks and hard work funeral home employees have put in as “last responders.” Most of the workers at their four locations in Dallas, Grand Prairie, Fort Worth and Tyler contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, she said.

“We have had to meet with families who have all been exposed to COVID,” Carrillo said. “There’s a lack of recognition of the tireless efforts to be there for the family as they were negatively and significantly impacted by COVID.”

Sandra Clark, who owns Sandra Clark Funeral Home in Dallas, said she had to purchase two more refrigerators and at least eight tables to handle the increase in deaths to COVID-19, in addition to paying for extra services before embalming. To cover the expense, families might see additional biohazard fees on their bill.

“I have to protect my staff,” Clark said. “I don’t want to take a chance of exposing anybody.”

Carillo said strong family support has helped their predominantly Hispanic clients afford the cost of funeral services.

“Some families do ask, ‘What are some of the resources?’ and unfortunately, there’s no resources for funeral services,” she said. “But I cannot tell you, within COVID, that we have had a family where they say they cannot pay.”




Original article posted here.

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