We Pay For All the COVID Funerals, Too?

by Steve Haner

Per the Centers for Disease Control’s tracking, more than 4 million death certificates have been recorded in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 520,000 of them (those recorded so far) listed COVID as primary or contributing cause of death.  The survivors of those individuals are eligible for 100% compensation for funeral expenses under the new round of federal COVID spending. 

The survivors or estates of the other 3.5 million dead Americans are flat out of luck on this one. No funeral expenses are covered if you died of cancer, a car wreck, or simple old age during the emergency period, which of course continues. If you died of loneliness or stress from the lockdown, no benefits for you, either.

How much of the funeral cost is covered? The cryptic notice on the Federal Emergency Management Association website doesn’t say, but the legislation mentions 100%. About the only limit is that it seems it will not cover anything paid for by other forms of insurance, some existing funeral benefit plan, or some other charitable donation.

So once again, as with so many things, making rational preparations of your own disqualifies you for money from Uncle Sam. Otherwise, this is quite broad:

  • 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 January 20, 2020.
  • There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.

There is no indication anywhere of financial need being a prerequisite. This benefit is not denied based on income.

Darn that profligate President Joe Biden and the new Congress, you might think. No, this was actually included in the December COVID relief package, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, and signed by President Donald Trump. But that only covered the 2020 COVID deaths, with the eligibility ending December 31. More details on that version can be found here, including what funeral costs are or are not eligible for reimbursement. The big obituary is not covered.

The American Rescue Plan Act signed by Biden now extends the benefits with no end date specified and adds $50 billion more to the FEMA disaster response fund through 2025 (not just for this). It specifies this is 100% a federal expense, not always the case with disaster benefits.

But if the state was required to put up 25%, after all, it would just use some of the $350 billion in state and local cash stashed elsewhere in the massive spending cornucopia. It’s all one big happy deficit pot now.

Existing disaster response law known as the Stafford Act apparently allowed funeral expenses as one form of financial assistance that could be authorized following designated federal disasters, presumably for people killed by the tornadoes, hurricanes, floods etc. I doubt previous Congresses ever imagined offering benefits to more than 500,000 survivor households in a pandemic.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has been recognized as such a full-fledged federal disaster for about a year now, and likely will continue for a long time. We might as well keep the states of emergency and disaster in place until 2025, right? It’s funded after all. We wouldn’t want anybody wondering why the tap went dry  on all these new programs before the 2022 or 2024 federal elections.

The phrase is cradle to grave, right?