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Local family wants more awareness on FEMA COVID funeral program

Local family wants more awareness on FEMA COVID funeral program
Posted at 10:16 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 23:12:52-05

OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio — Chris Anagnostopoulos of Olmsted Falls and his family lost their father Simeon to COVID-19 the day after Christmas 2020, and believes not enough families who lost a loved one to the virus are aware of federal funeral assistance is available.

Anagnostopoulos said his family received $9,000 in federal pandemic funds to help with more than $12,000 in funeral expenses for his father through the funeral assistance program implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA starting in Spring 2021.

Olmsted Falls family wants more awareness spread about FEMA funeral assistance program
Olmsted Falls family wants more awareness spread about FEMA funeral assistance program after losing their father to COVID-19 in Dec. of 2020.

But Anagnostopoulos told News 5 he was stunned to discover there were local families that experienced a COVID-related death who weren't aware of FEMA's program.

“Being only about a year now, it’s rough, he was pretty much the cornerstone of our family, "Anagnostopoulos said. “He was the foundation of our family, not just for his kids, but his grandkids.”

“I was talking to a couple of other people I know, who had family members that passed who didn’t know about the program, even though I had talked about it in the past.”

“With these funeral expenses, if I was on my own and I didn’t know about this program, it would have been my savings, that would have been out of my retirement plan I would have had to take out of.”

Jim Milano, President of Cleveland's Milano Monuments, told News 5 he's met too many families that weren't aware of the FEMA funeral assistance program. Milano said his company has been sending and handing out letters to dozens of local families who have dealt with a COVID-related death after January 20, 2020, informing them about the funeral assistance program. Milano believes FEMA can do more to get word out that the assistance is available without an income requirement or means-testing.

Jim Milano, President of Cleveland's Milano Monuments told News 5 he's met too many families that weren't aware of the FEMA program.
Jim Milano, President of Cleveland's Milano Monuments told News 5 he's met too many families that weren't aware of the FEMA program.

“Probably 70% of the families that I’ve asked had no knowledge of it," Milano said. “FEMA should probably have information packets out to all the funeral homes, all the cemetery providers, all the monument companies, possibly even the hospital networks.”

“The average funeral fee today, with the cemetery fee and everything, is anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. If you have a lift of $9.000, that certainly makes a difference."

Ed Michael Reggie, CEO of funeral industry information website Funeralocity.com, cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and FEMA that indicate the funeral assistance program is still significantly underutilized.

Ed Michael Reggie, CEO of funeral industry information website Funeralocity.com
Ed Michael Reggie, CEO of funeral industry information website Funeralocity.com, said too many families aren't aware of the FEMA program

“COVID has taken 775,000 lives, less than 50% of those families have even made applications," Reggie said. “In the State of Ohio over 26,000 people have died of COVID and only 11,000 families have applied for reimbursement.”

Reggie said the FEMA website will help families through the application process, which is quickly started with a single phone call and all of the proper documentation.

FEMA responded to our story outlining its effort to get out information on the program with the following statement:

Some of our early outreach has been to folks you might imagine, funeral directors, who work and deal with families in all communities across the nation. And so, we made sure that we reached out early to national level commercial and industrial funeral directors associations to ensure that folks would have another resource on how to do this. And we're very pleased with the warm reception that the funeral directors across America have been able to help and do some of this outreach to families who might need some help on how to navigate that process for their state, or municipal, or local jurisdiction.

To amplify awareness of, access to, and inclusion in COVID-19 Funeral Assistance, FEMA translated webpages into 13 languages and translated a one-page informational flyer into 23 languages, including English. As of November 15, 2021, the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance web page had received over 4,700,000 total page views.



Anagnostopoulos told News 5 once he applied by phone, the entire process took just 21 days but said it's important families follow up on the FEMA website for updates on their application.

“They gave me two numbers, one was an ID number, the other was like a claim number, and then I had to go on the FEMA website and create an account, and then I had to upload all my documents," Anagnostopoulos said.

“It’s important to keep checking, keep on top of it because they’re not going to come out and bother you and say we need more information.”

Again, Anagnostopoulos said more awareness about the program is needed.

“Nothing that’s gone into people’s mailboxes, there’s nothing on Google ads, there’s nothing anywhere," Anagnostopoulos said. “How come there’s not a packet at the front desk of a hospital. How about when your loved one passed away and they’re telling you you have 24-hours to find a funeral home, they’re not saying here’s a card call FEMA.”

FEMA also told News 5 it encourages individuals to apply for assistance or ask questions about an existing application, by calling the dedicated, toll-free COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline at 844-684-6333. The helpline is open Mon. – Fri. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Multilingual services are available.

Callers who use a relay service, such as a videophone, should provide FEMA with the specific number assigned to them for that service. Applicants may also visit FEMA's website for eligibility information and answers to frequently asked questions.