May 12, 2020

Ocasio-Cortez, Lee Introduce Bill to Provide Burial Costs for COVID-19 Victims

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Barbara Lee introduced the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act, which, if enacted, would instruct FEMA to disperse $10,000 to cover the funeral expenses of those lost to the pandemic. In addition to their extraordinary emotional toll, these deaths can further strain a family’s finances and create new cycles of poverty, particularly as the United States faces the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression. A full copy of the bill is available here.  This bill is not currently included in the HEROES Act. 

“We know COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities. The absolute least we can do is to help these families bury their loved ones. It is the very core, basic measure of human dignity. And in the richest country in the world, we should be able to allow people to bury their loved ones in dignity,” said Ocasio-Cortez in a statement. 

“For weeks, the Trump Administration refused to act to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, too many families are having their loved ones taken from them suddenly, many times unable to even say a proper goodbye. These families – who are disproportionately black or Latinx – are reeling from grief and economic duress. The last thing they need is to worry about how to pay for the funeral. This pandemic has spread unchecked because of the failures of our federal government; the least we can do for grieving families is help them overcome their financial strain,” said Rep. Lee.

The bill would create a COVID-19 Burial Fund, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Disbursements of funds would be backdated to January 21, 2020 to account for those that have already been buried. Given the great need, the FEMA Administrator will be required to establish a fund within 30 days of enactment and provide payment within 30 days of an application being submitted. To qualify for these funds, an applicant must comply with the following conditions:

  • The applicant must demonstrate a common familial relationship of the deceased or an eligible funeral home applying for an unclaimed body to apply for funds;
  • The deceased must have died as a result of COVID-19 or COVID-19 related complications, which has been certified through documentation from a state, local, territorial, or tribal (SLTT) government licensed medical official, such as the Medical Examiner, Coroner, Nurse, Nursing Assistant, Doctor, or emergency medical technician, or warden;
  • FEMA must be able to verify the applicant’s identity;  
  • The applicant must provide receipts or verifiable estimates indicating the applicant incurred or will incur eligible interment, reinterment, or funeral expenses.  

The  COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act is also co-sponsored by Rep. Tlaib, Pressley, Omar, Hayes, Meng, Blumenauer, Holmes Norton, Malinowski, Clarke, Moore, Espaillat, and Watson Coleman. 

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez previously joined with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer in demanding that FEMA use its authority to immediately grant approval for ‘Disaster Funeral Assistance’ across New York. That letter was co-signed by Senator Gillibrand and Representatives Serrano, Nadler, Meng, Espaillat, Maloney, Velázquez, King and Suozzi. The letter is available in full here