The pandemic is not only disproportionately striking racial and ethnic minority and low-income communities in life, but it’s following them past their deaths to unaffordable burials, said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat.
She and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., highlighted $2 billion in assistance to help reimburse low-income families who had to scrape from their own money to afford funeral and burial expenses for loved ones they lost to Covid-19 last year.
“I lost my Dad when I was about 18 years old, and the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family along with many other families in a similar position for years,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference in Queens on Monday. “When you suddenly lose a loved one, you’re talking about an expense of four or five, seven, 10 thousand dollars.”
Black, brown and working-class families have been disproportionately hit by Covid-19, which has meant higher levels of mortality and the many funerals and burials that have followed. Some families have had to set up GoFundMe pages and find other ways to raise money to pay for the costs.
In addition to not having money for those services, many families have to pay for the storage of their loved ones’ bodies until they can be buried, Ocasio-Cortez said.
The money was included in the coronavirus relief bill signed into law in December. The lawmakers want such assistance to be available until the pandemic ends. They said they are working to include more assistance in the American Rescue Plan, the emergency coronavirus relief package that President Joe Biden has proposed to Congress.
The lawmakers say the program will require people applying for the reimbursement to have identifying documentation and a death certificate. Funeral homes would be alerted to the reimbursement to inform families and a toll free line, with assistance in multiple languages, would be set up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to walk people through the process.
Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer tried last year to get FEMA to provide funeral and burial assistance to families in the same way that it did after Hurricane Sandy, Schumer said.
Schumer said he and Ocasio-Cortez asked FEMA to act on its own to provide assistance as it had before, but it did not, despite the lawmakers' entreaties to the White House and agency.