New help available to families 'dealing with sudden loss' because of COVID-19

'They're just heroes, and I just applaud their efforts' funeral home president says
With traditional funerals not an option, people take different approaches mourn loved ones
Posted at 1:54 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 18:41:14-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Since March 2020, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 10,400 Virginians leaving thousands of families to mourn an unexpected loss. Not only that, but they also faced the financial stress of figuring out how to lay a loved one to rest during a pandemic.

Looking back at the deadliest year in U.S. history, a powerful word came to mind when describing the men and women in charge of helping families grieve.

"My gosh, they're just heroes, and I just applaud their efforts," said Lacyn Barton.

She's the president of Woody and Nelsen Funeral Homes in the Richmond area. It's an industry seeing a heightened demand during the COVID-19 pandemic but limited in its ability to accommodate ceremonies.

"At first we saw funerals and life celebration receptions cancelled or postponed because people just couldn't come together," said Barton.

Some families carried an even heavier emotional burden. The very disease that claimed a loved one's life kept them from mourning in traditional ways.

"We brought in special janitorial services to sanitize all of our facilities right off the bat. We started marking off pews to encourage social distancing," Barton explained. "More than that, we had to learn new technology right away, because we started doing online virtual funeral arrangements."

On top of an already tremendous mental toll then came a financial challenge.

"Dealing with a pandemic is not something that you plan for or set aside money for," Barton said. "Some people pre-plan their funerals, of course, but folks were dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one because of this illness."

That's where funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) comes into play.

Beginning April 12th, FEMA is accepting applications to help families cover up to $9,000 in funeral costs for people who died from Coronavirus.

According to FEMA, you must meet these conditions to qualify for funding:

  • 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.

Applicants must provide this information to qualify:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
  • Funeral expenses documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that includes the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA is not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies, or other sources.

Barton said her staff is on standby to assist the dozens of families they were entrusted to care for.

"We're just so glad that those eligible families are going to get a little bit of reimbursement from that sudden financial burden that they had to deal with," she said.

Applications will be accepted through a call center. That number: 844-684-6333.