The federal government will help pay for the funeral and burial of COVID-19 victims whose families can’t afford the expenses, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced Monday.
In a rare joining of forces, the two New York members of Congress, who disagree on the Democratic Party platform, said that the Federal Emergency Management Administration will tap into the overall $2 billion national pot of disaster funds to cover the costs.
New York State will get approximately $260 million in funeral assistance funds, according to Schumer. FEMA will cover all funeral expenses, which run an average of $7,000. People can file retroactively for reimbursements dating back to Jan. 20, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020.
“For families, the unspeakable loss of a loved one is being exacerbated by the substantial costs of funerals and burials that many cannot afford right now,” said Schumer (D-NY), the newly minted Senate majority leader.
He said he got the idea after Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx/Queens) broached the topic with him in April. The two then called on the federal government to provide similar financial relief for funeral costs like it did after Superstorm Sandy.
“Millions of people across the country and thousands of New Yorkers have lost loved ones due to the pandemic and adding significantly to the emotional and financial burdens they were already dealing with,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez are “working to keep the program in place for the rest of the pandemic,” according to a press release.
A Team of Rivals
A family seeking to file for the coverage will need documentation, such as a death certificate or obituary, to verify the person died. Relatives will also need receipts for all the funeral costs. They should coordinate with family members on who will file the application as “next of kin.”
FEMA is creating a call center where caseworkers can assist people applying. Eligible people will be able to upload the documentation into an online portal or submit the paperwork via fax or U.S. mail.
The phone number and online system are not operational yet.
Among the local advocates who pushed for the federal burial assistance: Frankie Miranda, executive director of Hispanic Federation; Nathaly Rubio-Torio, executive director of Voces Latina, and Saeeda Lesley Dunston, executive director of Queens’ Elmcor Senior Center.
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Many New Yorkers have struggled to bury their loved ones killed by COVID-19, which has disproportionately hit Black and Hispanic residents of working-class neighborhoods.
Some 2,225 people have been buried on Hart Island since January, the busiest year since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, THE CITY reported in December. Hundreds more are expected to be laid to rest at the city’s public cemetery in the coming months.
In 1988, when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, nearly 1,400 adult burials took place on the island, home of the largest mass grave in the United States. In 1918, there were over 22,000 burials during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Nearly 28,000 New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus so far.
Ocasio-Cortez, who up-ended the Democratic establishment with her 2018 win over longtime Queens Democratic leader and Rep. Joe Crowley, has been floated as a potential challenger to Schumer next year.
Schumer recently became Senate leader with the effective Democratic majority, elevating him to his highest position of power following a 45-year-plus political career and giving New York a potentially strong champion with the changeover to the Biden administration.