As of Monday, nearly 5,000 Idahoans had died from COVID-19.
In April 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began offering a reimbursement program of up to $9,000 to help cover funeral expenses for COVID victims.
The assistance applies retrospectively. Income and life insurance are not barriers, although prepaid funerals are out of the question. FEMA has not yet set a filing deadline.
A Post Falls family took advantage of the refund after losing their patriarch Fred “Papa” Ellis to COVID last September.
Ellis’ daughter, Linda Greene, said it was very easy to turn in the paperwork.
“We just saved all our receipts and submitted them online,” she said. “We paid for everything with a credit card to make it easier. It took about a month for us to receive a check for full funeral reimbursement. For us, that was about $3,800 because we chose cremation. “
She said it was fortunate to be able to put the expense on a refunded card.
“We were nervous that something might go wrong, but that didn’t happen,” she said. “It was a pretty smooth process.”
Ellis’ widow and Greene’s mother Jeanne Ellis said families have enough to deal with going through a COVID death.
“For us, Fred was only 63,” said Jeanne. “It was three weeks from when he was first infected until he died on September 23. It was very, very fast. Little did I know when he got to the hospital that I would never see him in person again. We have six kids and he paid the bills. He was the main provider. I didn’t know where the money was supposed to come from. I was just trying to get from one day to the next.
Many Idahoans have not used the resource. According to FEMA data released March 15, only 1,748 applications were submitted and 1,062 applications were approved. That amounted to just over $6 million in refunds in Idaho.
The populous state of California received more than 38,000 applications, of which 26,054 were approved. Total reimbursements total more than $168 million.
In contrast, the sparsely populated state of Wyoming submitted 653 applications; 441 have been awarded and total reimbursements paid total just over $2.4 million.
Jason Armstrong, funeral director of Coeur d’Alene Cremation and Funeral on Ironwood Drive, said because reimbursements are paid in arrears, his funeral home doesn’t know which families applied for FEMA funds.
“We will often tell people where we know COVID was involved in the death, we will tell them to check with FEMA,” he said. “Some of FEMA’s previous releases say the program hasn’t been used as much as they expected.”
Jeanne said she doesn’t think most people know the funds are available.
“We didn’t know until after Fred died,” she said. “We’re glad someone told us about it.”
Greene said not long after her family received their reimbursement, she and her mother were waiting in a doctor’s office and heard a man on the phone in the hallway start crying.
“Of course my mom runs to try and comfort him,” Greene said. “He tells us he just lost his mother and girlfriend to COVID and had two funerals to cover and no money. It was all too much. All.
“When we told him about the refund, he was stunned. He had no idea. We had to convince him it was real. He said he thought he would lose his home to pay for the funerals. That was a special moment for us — to be able to help someone in the same situation. Something good.”
INFOBOX OR SIDEBAR:
FEMA can provide you with COVID-19 burial assistance if:
• You are a US citizen, non-citizen or qualified non-citizen
• The death occurred in the United States, including the US Territories and the District of Columbia
• Death attributed to COVID-19
• You are responsible for eligible funeral expenses incurred on or after January 20, 2020
What is covered:
• Funeral services
• Costs related to the preparation of death certificates
• Costs due to local or state authorities
• Transport for up to two people to identify the deceased
• Transfer of remains
• Casket or urn
• Marker or tombstone
• Funeral Ceremony
• Funeral Home equipment or staff
To apply, call 844-684-6333 Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. PT. COVID-19 burial assistance applications must be completed with a FEMA representative. You cannot apply online.