In April, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began offering U.S. citizens a $9,000 reimbursement for funeral expenses for loved ones who had died from the coronavirus since January 2020.

The program, announced on the FEMA website, is one of many funded by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act.

“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton in the written statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate.”

In Georgia, more than 18,000 deaths have been confirmed as caused by coronavirus. Another 2,800 are suspected to have been caused by the virus. In Haralson County, 35 were confirmed as caused by the virus and another 52 were probably caused by the virus. In neighboring Carroll County, 132 were caused by the virus and 112 were probably caused by the virus.

That money could mean a lot to those thousands of families in the aftermath of an unexpected death from the pandemic, said Randy Sanders, of Sanders Associates Insurance. Sanders Associates specializes in serving senior residents of west Georgia and his clients were some of the hardest hit by the virus. But he didn’t know about the reimbursement until some of the recently started asking him how to claim it.

“The amazing thing to me is this information is not being shared with the American people,” Sanders said. “Nine-thousand dollars can help people who have lost a loved one to this terrible pandemic.”

Some of the funeral directors in the area were aware of the reimbursement and did tell their clients about it. Bryant Hightower, vice president of Martin and Hightower Funeral Homes, said as president of the National Funeral Directors Association, he was aware of the reimbursement well before the eligibility requirements to claim it were worked out.

“We have made families certainly, aware of that,” Hightower said.

The process of claiming the reimbursement is something that the family originates, he said. However, the funeral home staff has assisted families who have requested it in starting the process, Hightower added.

The national average cost of a funeral is about $8,000, he said. That doesn’t include some costs that are also reimbursable including a gravesite and grave marker, Hightower added. So the reimbursement can be a real help to families in shouldering the burden caused by a death during the pandemic, he said.

This past year has been an especially hard one for families just because of the sheer magnitude of the deaths during the pandemic.

Some families have lost more than one family member or an otherwise healthy family member due to the disease, Hightower said.

Patty Hutcheson, of Hutcheson Funeral Home, agreed.

They also have been helping the families who request it, she said.

“As a funeral provider, we are able to contact FEMA or submit paperwork for the families,” Hutcheson said by email. “Mostly, they have asked for copies of their funeral contracts. We have assisted in faxing information for some.”

Hutcheson has also contacted families to remind them of the assistance, she said.

To apply for the funds, the families need a copy of the death certificate showing that the death “may have been caused by” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms, she said.

They also need proof of funeral expenses such as the funeral home contract or receipts. The eligible expenses include the casket, transportation to identify their loved one, a casket, burial plot or cremation niche, the marker or headstone, clergy or officiant services, cremation or interment costs.

“As of today, we have not heard from a family that received funds,” Hutcheson said. “The funds go directly to the family, even if the bill is not paid in full.”

For more information visit www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral- assistance.