The main reason many grieving families hire Sunny is so we can take on the burdensome and time consuming tasks that come with losing a loved one. Families can be so overwhelmed after losing a loved one that adding another task or application feels like too big of a lift. When FEMA was opening up their COVID Funeral Assistance line on Monday, April 12, I was able to apply as a “co-applicant” on behalf of several clients who had suffered a loss due to COVID and below is a synopsis of my experience so you can know what to expect in the process of applying and timeline for receiving a check.
Overall impressions: I work with A LOT of customer service representatives and government run programs when I am working with clients, and FEMA was by far the best experience I have had to date. The FEMA COVID line customer service reps were knowledgeable and friendly. I ran into a few minor hiccups in the application process, but overall I was impressed with the efficiency and speed at which this program operates.
Timeline from first call to receiving check: 4 months. Again, not lightning speed, but considering the COVID funeral assistance program was just rolled out in April, I consider this a fairly quick turnaround.
Here is an outline of the steps I took to apply:
–Step 1 Call the FEMA COVID Assistance Line (844-684-6333): Thankfully FEMA has cleaned up this phone line. I called several days in a row when the line first opened and could not get through. When I was finally able to get through the queue to wait was over an hour. In this initial call, you are starting the process of creating your case and below is some of the information they will ask for (so be prepared):
- The applicant’s social security number and the social of the person who would be receiving the funds (and paid for funeral)
- Social security number of the person who passed
- The date of funeral expenses occurred
- Where the person who passed was living when they passed-this should be listed on the death certificate
- Household annual gross income of the person who will be receiving the funds (I am not sure how much this is taken into account with the application, but it did not seem incredibly relevant and the customer service rep I spoke with was not concerned about it being precise)
In this call, FEMA will give you a case number that is fairly important to keep up with as it will be your reference number for all future calls with FEMA.
–Step 2 Submit Supporting Documentation: After you provide the information on the phone, you are then prompted to upload supporting documentation to complete the application. FEMA gives you several options to provide documentation: mail, fax, or upload electronically to their portal at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/. An important note is that if you are wanting to be able to check the status of your application online vs calling in, you will need to upload your documentation to their online portal. The documentation I needed to upload was the death certificate and a receipt showing the purchase of the funeral.
* Applying as a “co-applicant” or on behalf of someone*- If you are trying to set up the online account and upload documentation on FEMA’s portal as “co-applicant”- you need to first have the main applicant (or the person receiving the FEMA funds) to set up the account for you and then share login info with you. The online account setup asks for sensitive personal identifiers of the main applicant (similar to what you would see if you were creating an online bank account or getting a credit report) such as “which street have you NOT lived on in past”, “which of these cars have you owned in the past”. I called FEMA to ask why the questions were not trying to confirm my identity as a co-applicant, and they confirmed that only the main applicant can set up an online account and verify identity. They also said that once the main applicant creates the account, they can share the login with co-applicant to complete the application process. If consulting with the main applicant is not an option for whatever reason, a work around would be to mail or fax in the documentation, but you lose the ability to check the status of your application.
-Step 3 Clarify Supporting Documentation: This will not apply to all applicants, but for one family I had applied for, FEMA reached out one month after I had uploaded documentation to the online portal (that was very clear and read-able in my opinion) and informed me the uploaded documentation was not readable and I would need to mail in the supporting documentation. Not a big inconvenience, but another step to take care of.
-Step 4 Receive Check: Without any warning or notification that the applications had been approved, I received very nondescript checks from The United States Treasury (look very similar to a tax return check!). There is no documentation with the check or any mentioning of the FEMA COVID Funeral Assistance program, so be on the lookout for these checks and if the deceased has an open estate in probate, I would recommend you consult with your estate attorney before determining where to deposit the check (in the applicant’s personal account or in the estate account).
Again, given this program was incredibly new, I am impressed with how smoothly the application process was and am thankful that those who have lost a loved one to COVID are receiving support.
The FEMA COVID Funeral Assistance Program has a very helpful website that answers other questions pertaining to what the death certificate needs to say with regard to cause of death, how to navigate the online portal, etc.