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How FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program Is Working In Utah

Rows of gravestones are decorated with flowers in a field of green grass with trees in the background.
David Fuchs
Fresh flowers adorn the graves at the Cedar City cemetery in Iron County, one of 14 Utah counties that are still in the "moderate level of transmission" for COVID-19 as designated by the Utah Department of Health.

Just over 730 Utahns have applied for COVID-19 funeral assistance since the federal government started the program in April. That’s roughly a third of the number of people who died from the virus in the state.

Only 64 applicants from Utah have been awarded relief so far.

A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, told KUER the remaining 667 applications from Utah are still under consideration. No applications have been denied.

FEMA announced the funeral assistance program this spring, with the goal of alleviating some of the financial stress caused by the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people,” the agency’s acting administrator Bob Fenton said in a statement at the time. “Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."

Since the program launched on April 12, FEMA has sent a total of $415,171 of funeral assistance to Utahns — an average of of $6,500 per awardee.

That’s a meaningful number, according to Joyce Mitchell, the president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Utah.

As a funeral consumer advocate, Mitchell said she has conducted surveys and price comparisons of funerary services across the state. “It can range from $4,500 to $15,000,” she said. “But I think a lot of people will fall into the $10,000 [range] if they add everything up.”

Those costs can include fees for transporting bodies, embalming, funeral homes, cemeteries and chapels, Mitchell added.

The FEMA funeral assistance program works retroactively.

Any Utahn who has paid for a COVID-19-related funeral after Jan. 20, 2020 may be eligible for financial relief.

To qualify, the death must have taken place in the United States and must be attributed to COVID-19 on the death certificate. Funeral assistance is only available to U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals and qualified aliens. The person who died, however, does not need to have been a member of those groups, according to FEMA’s website.

The agency has not yet announced an application deadline.

Corrected: June 1, 2021 at 9:34 AM MDT
This story has been corrected to indicate that Iron County is in the "moderate level of transmission" as designated by the Utah Department of Health. A previous version of this story also misstated how many counties are in the "high level of transmission" — there are no counties in the "high" transmission level.
David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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