On a humid August afternoon in 2020, two caskets – one silver, one white – sat by holes in the ground at a small, graveside service in the town of Travelers Rest, S.C.
The family had just lost a mom and dad, both to COVID.
“They died five days apart,” says Allison Leaver, who now lives in Maryland with her husband and kids.
When Leaver’s parents died that summer, it was a crushing tragedy. And there was no life insurance or burial policy to help with the expense.
“We just figured we were just going to have to put that on our credit cards and pay it off, and that’s how we were going to deal with that,” the public school teacher says with a laugh of resignation.
But then, in April of 2021, FEMA offered to reimburse funeral expenses — up to $9,000, which is roughly the average cost of a funeral. And it was retroactive.
Leaver applied immediately.
“If this horrible thing had to happen, at least we weren’t going to be out the cash for it,” she says.
A year into the program, the federal government has paid more than $2 billion to cover funeral costs for COVID victims. More than 300,000 families have received reimbursement, averaging $6,500. But fewer than half of families have started applications.
Many surviving family members have run into challenges or still don’t know the money is available.