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Funeral aid program allows death certificates to be altered for those who 'may have' died of COVID

"If your loved one's death certificate doesn't have COVID listed, you can have it put in," said N.Y. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Updated: April 13, 2021 - 1:25pm

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Relatives of individuals who died in the "early days" of the coronavirus pandemic will be able to seek amended death certificates that show COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death in order to receive reimbursement for funeral costs under a new FEMA program, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"Your loved one should have COVID on their death certificate, anywhere listed either as their primary or contributing cause of death," said Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, on Monday during a news conference with Schumer. "In those early days, we know that so many people didn't know what was COVID and what wasn't.

"You can go back to the institution that issued the death certificate, the hospital, the physician, etcetera, and you can have your death certificate edited in retrospect knowing what we know now about COVID. So if your loved one's death certificate doesn't have COVID listed, you can have it put in." 

Schumer, a New York Democrat, said that "since September, they've been listing COVID, the problem is, as the congresswoman said, in the early days, they didn't even know what COVID was so they didn't list it, and we're working to get that corrected." 

Ocasio-Cortez added that the lawmakers "are in conversations with FEMA to see what added flexibility" can be implemented around amending death certificates.

According to the current program rules on the FEMA website: "[T]he death certificate must indicate the death 'may have been caused by' or 'was likely the result of' COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution."

The reimbursed amount maxes out at $9,000 per deceased individual and $35,500 per application. 

FEMA's rules for the program specify that the death "must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia; the death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19 and the applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a qualified non-citizen who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020."

The deceased individual, however, does not need to be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified non-citizen.

"This is one of the first programs ... that will allow mixed status and undocumented families to get some semblance of relief after feeding this country, after cleaning our schools, after serving and holding up this community," said Ocasio-Cortez. "This community got nothing in relief, very little. I am so proud of the tireless work and pushing that it took to make sure that up to $9,000 of relief will now be available to almost every family in this country."

FEMA outlined the eligible expenses the federal government will reimburse for on their official website for the program. 

The funeral reimbursement program was part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that the Democrat-led Congress passed last month.

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