FOREST CITY — Under a new program, administered by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), residents who paid for funeral expenses of a loved one who died from COVID-19 may qualify for funeral assistance.

The Funeral Assistance program was created under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan act of 2021. The financial assistance is for COVID-19-related funeral expenses that incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.

To be eligible for funeral assistance, the death must have occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. The death certificate must indicate the death was caused by, “may have been caused by,” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution.

The assistance is not available for the funeral expenses of U.S. citizens who died outside the U.S.

A qualifying applicant can receive up to $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,000 per application, which could include additional family members.

The program is open to families regardless of their income, as long as they show documentation and have not already received similar benefits through another program. If funeral expenses were paid by specific funeral insurance, it would not qualify for assistance. However, life insurance is not disqualifying.

Local funeral home officials say because the program is brand new, they are still learning about all the details. They also say they will do whatever they can to assist the families they have worked with whose loved one died from COVID-19.

“This will be a blessing to a lot of people in the county, who lost a loved one to COVID,” said Lanny Funchess, of Harrelson’s Funeral Home. “A lot of people were caught off guard with this ordeal. It won’t bring their loved one back, but it can help them financially, alleviating the cost burden of funeral expenses.”

Funchess and his team have begun reviewing their records to identify those who died from COVID-19.

“We are reviewing all of the families we served since January, 2020, and will be sending letters to the families of those whose loved ones died of COVID,” Funchess continued. “We are including the paperwork that they need from us, to make it more convenient for them to go through the FEMA application process.”

Shane Earley of Padgett and King Mortuary also says the program can benefit local people.

“This could be a big help,” Earley said. “It’s brand new, but we plan to do all we can to assist the families that we served, whose loved one died of COVID-19.”

Earley’s team will also assist with information, and providing paperwork such as duplicate invoices if that is what is needed.

“We want people to have all the assistance that is available,” Early added.

Jessie McMahan of McMahan’s Funeral Home says the McMahan’s staff is also just now learning the details, and that they will be communicating with their families assisted during the pandemic, whose loved one died form COVID-19.

FEMA will begin accepting applications for Funeral Assistance on Monday, April 12 through FEMA’s dedicated call center. The telephone number is 844-684-6333. The center will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. By calling the toll-free number, applicants may talk directly with FEMA representatives.

No online applications will be accepted. Multilingual services will be available.

Once an applicant has applied for the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance and is provided an application number, they may provide supporting documentation to FEMA by mail, fax, or uploading to their account.

The program can help with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation. This includes, but is not limited to: a casket or urn, burial plot or cremation niche, marker or headstone, clergy or officiant services, arrangement of the funeral ceremony, use of funeral home staff or equipment, cremation or interment costs, transfer of remains, costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates.

Program applicants may receive assistance for the funeral expenses of multiple deceased individuals.

FEMA will generally only provide COVID-19 Funeral Assistance to one applicant per deceased individual. FEMA officials say they recognized that multiple individuals may have contributed to funeral expenses for one deceased individual. Therefore, FEMA will work with applicants in these situations.

Funchess offers a word of caution, warning people to beware of third-party individuals who may contact them offering to assist with their application.

“Third parties are not allowed to do this, and are usually just trying to take advantage of people financially,” he said.

At this time, there is no deadline to apply for FEMA Funeral Assistance.