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, South Carolina.
The family had just lost a mom and dad, both to COVID-19.
“They died five days apart,” said Allison Leaver, their daughter 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,” Leaver, a public school teacher, said with a laugh of resignation.
But then, in April 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered to reimburse funeral expenses for COVID victims — up to $9,000, which is roughly the average cost of a funeral. And the assistance 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 said.
A year into the program, the federal government has paid more than $2 billion to cover funeral costs for people who die of COVID. More than 300,000 families have received reimbursement, averaging $6,500. But fewer than half of eligible families have started applications, and FEMA said there is no limit on the funding available at this time.
Many surviving family members have run into challenges or don’t know the money is still available.