ALBANY — Individuals who have unreimbursed funeral expenses for loved ones who died of COVID-19 can begin applying for benefits to cover costs on Monday.
The COVID-19 funeral assistance program will provide up to $9,000 per individual, or for those individuals who paid for more than one funeral up to a total of $35,500, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler said.
The program is retroactive for those who had deaths of family members from the disease during the pandemic, he said.
The assistance is provided through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, and will provide financial assistance for funeral expenses related to COVID-19 deaths that occurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
As of this week, 377 Dougherty County residents who tested positive for the novel coronavirus have died, the coroner said. The coroner’s office has had no deaths attributed to the disease in three weeks.
On Thursday there were 23 patients being treated for COVID-19 at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. There were no patients at Phoebe Putney Health System hospitals in Americus and Sylvester.
Eligibility for funeral assistance requires that the death occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories, that the death certificate states the death was attributed to COID-19 and that the applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the pandemic there was some reluctance of some family members to have COVID-19 listed as the cause of death, perhaps a perceived stigma, Fowler said.
“At first, a lot of family members did not want that on the death certificate” he said. “I don’t know why. Different ones in the community did not want people in the community to know they had COVID.”
That has changed, however, with the announcement of the benefit program.
“Now they know those funds are available, they want that on the death certificate,” Fowler said. “We’ve been getting phone calls. Not a lot, but a few.”
Death certificates can be amended if a physician can document a death actually was due to COVID-19, but that change cannot be made based solely on a request.
“If they have documentation it was COVID, it can be amended,” Fowler said. “If they don’t have documentation, they can’t put it on there. In some cases, the person who signed the death certificate may not have been aware of it.”
In some instances COVID-19 was not immediately identified as the cause of death before test results came back, and those are the kinds of cases that could fall into those where an amended death certificate could be provided.
Beginning Monday, individuals may make applications between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. through the funeral assistance hotline at (884) 684-6333. The number for the hearing-impaired is (800) 462-7585.
Applicants will be required to provide an official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19, funeral expense documents such as receipts or contracts and proof of funds received from other sources.
Funeral costs covered by burial or funeral insurance, assistance from private or government agencies or other sources are not reimbursable.