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FEMA has spent $104 million in Pennsylvania paying for COVID-19 funerals

Marcio Jose Sanchez
Federal funding is available to help cover funeral expenses for people who died of COVID-19.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided $104 million in funeral assistance funds to Pennsylvanians who lost loved ones to COVID-19, the agency announced this week.

In FEMA’s Region 3, which includes Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, funeral assistance funds have exceeded $208 million.

John Donahue, an emergency management program specialist for individual assistance with FEMA, said that’s about 10% of the more than $2 billion the agency has distributed nationally.

Officials called it an “important milestone” for the program, which first launchedlast April.

“Our hearts go out to the thousands of families in Region 3 that have suffered financial stress due to funeral expenses for their loved ones,” FEMA Region 3 Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney said in a statement. “Reaching the $200 million mark is a tangible sign of our commitment to the grieving families in our region.”

But the financial figures are “not an open book,” said Donahue.

“We do have some ceilings that are incorporated with it,” he said.

FEMA will reimburse up to $9,000 worth of funeral expenses for each person who died of COVID-19 on January 20, 2020, and after. If there are multiple deaths in a family, FEMA will go up to $35,500 total.

The average award in Pennsylvania is $6,600.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 earmarked $2 billion to cover funeral costs for COVID-related deaths. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also provided FEMA $50 billion to spend on disaster relief programs, including funeral reimbursements.

Donahue said FEMA eventually will stop offering funeral assistance but a final date has not been decided. Right now, Donahue and other agency employees are working to enroll as many people as possible in the program.

He estimates FEMA has received applications for about 490,000 of the nearly 1 million COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S.

“There’s still an opportunity for people to apply, and we encourage everybody to do so,” he said.

Call the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline at 844-684-6333 to apply for assistance. More information about criteria requirements can be foundhere.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at