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The Biden administration made it easier for many families to qualify for aid toward funeral costs after loosening rules for a Covid-era program.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the program, changed its funeral-assistance policy related to deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic.
Applicants for funeral assistance — up to $9,000 per deceased person and $35,500 per application — initially had to provide a death certificate listing Covid-19 as the cause of death.
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But early on, death certificates may not have cited the virus. Testing wasn’t as widespread and the coronavirus wasn’t as well understood by the medical community, for example. Many families may have been denied as a result.
FEMA’s tweak offers reimbursement if applicants submit a statement or letter from the death certificate’s certifying official, medical examiner, or coroner that attributes the death to Covid-19, according to the agency.
The change applies to deaths between Jan. 20 and May 16 last year.
The new policy offers flexibility to attribute a death to Covid without amending the death certificate, according to FEMA. It also covers the period before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published death-certificate guidance in the spring of 2020, the agency said.
Individuals must still submit a death certificate linking the fatality to Covid-19 for deaths occurring after May 16.
Program funds can reimburse costs associated with funeral services, cremation, a casket or urn, burial plot, marker or headstone, and transportation for up to two people to identify the deceased individual, for example.
The program has $2 billion of total funding and opened to applicants in April.
Since then, more than 78,000 applicants have received $525 million in assistance, according to FEMA. More than 605,000 people have died from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Scammers targeted the program early on, when there was a high volume of applicants. Criminals posed as government agents who offered to register applicants for assistance, but instead tried to steal money or sensitive personal information, according to the Federal Trade Commission.