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FEMA Helping cover COVID-related funeral costs - how to get help

The agency will cover up to $9,000 of funeral costs for those who lost a loved one to COVID-19 on or after Jan. 20, 2020

MEDINA, Ohio — More than 560,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic - nearly 19,000 of those in Ohio.  The losses have not only taken an emotional toll, but for many a financial one as well. 

After two years of trying Whitney Todd couldn't wait to tell her father, Daniel Harrison, he'd finally have a grandchild. Todd said she was going to share the news at Christmas 2020, "but Christmas was canceled this year because my dad wasn't feeling very well."

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By New Year's Eve, Harrison could barely breathe. "I remember calling him on the phone that day, and I was just in tears," Todd said. "I just kept on telling him, 'Dad, I have a Christmas present for you. I can't wait to share this with you.'" 

She eventually did get to share the news, but via text message, because Harrison was in the hospital with COVID-19, hooked up to oxygen. Three weeks later Daniel Harrison was dead at just 62 years old. 

Todd says she wishes she was able to share that moment with her dad, in person, and that she had more time to grieve. But the family now had to come up with a plan to help pay for an unexpected funeral. Dad's drywall business was mom's main source of support.

"She's so young, I want her to be able to live in her home and be able to not make any drastic changes in light of this situation," Todd said. "There's a lot of years lost now, in terms of being able to save for retirement."

But they along with more than 500,000 people who lost family to COVID are getting some help with the financial burden thanks to FEMA. 

FEMA is giving families up to $9,000 per funeral for expenses incurred after Jan. 20 of 2020 for COVID-related deaths

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"It really is going to be a great help that the government's providing for these families who in many situations were not expecting to bear the expense of a funeral," said Jack Mitchell of the National Funeral Directors Association.

The average cost of a funeral and burial - $9,000, not including flowers or transportation. Mitchell says they're alerting all families they've worked with and all they know who will be in the months ahead.

But not everyone is eligible for help.

"Many times, people will pre-pay for a funeral, in advance," Mitchell said. "so if that is the is the situation, [and] if it turns out to be COVID, the government does not reimburse for that."

But with $2 billion to give away, many families will now be able to focus on healing rather than finances.

And unfortunately, as if families aren't suffering enough, FEMA is warning families about scammers, who are contacting people offering to help them register for the program. FEMA says they will only contact you if you applied for help, so if you get an unsolicited call, letter or email, ignore it.

"It's bittersweet," Todd said. "But we still know that we'll teach our little son about his grandpa. Be sure to honor his legacy, in a time of such sadness." 

To learn more about FEMA's funeral assistance program and where and how to apply, visit FEMA's website here

Editors note: The video in the player below originally aired on Jan. 6, 2021.