Thousands of Mid-South families waiting for FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance fund

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of Mid-South families are grieving the loss of a loved one to COVID-19.

FEMA stepped up to offer some financial support this spring for funeral expenses, but now FOX13 is learning only a handful of families have gotten relief.

Across the Mid-South, more than 9,300 families applied for this FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program. Out of all those applicants, only 27 people have received funding from our area.

Tennessee had the most applicants with more than 4,400, followed by Mississippi with more than 3,100 and then Arkansas with 1,700.

10 families in Mississippi and Arkansas got funding, and only 7 in Tennessee.

FEMA said it will provide financial assistance for funeral expenses for COVID-19 related deaths that happened after January 20, 2020.

The program started last month, and they’ve been flooded with applicants.

N.J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home General Manager Pamela Wherry said they’ve had a lot of interest.

“Every day, I mean, all day, call after call it’s been about the FEMA [program],” said Wherry. “They must remember it is a new program so they’re work everything that needs to worked out to get these funds to these grieving families.”

FOX13 Investigates requested an interview with FEMA, and asked why only a few Mid-South families received funding. FEMA sent us this statement:

Under FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance, applicants start their claim with a phone call. They are then sent a letter in which they have 90 days to respond and submit all of the required documentation to determine eligibility. Applications can only be processed after all required documentation is received and verified. The process to review applications is a solely a manual process between FEMA and the applicant. FEMA staff are working diligently to process completed applications. No state and/or applicant is given preferential treatment. Reviews are based on which files contain the necessary documentation and are processed in the order they are received. FEMA continually balances processing assistance as quickly as possible while also ensuring the necessary reviews are conducted.

Like any assistance program, there are some restrictions and not every family will be eligible for this funding.

A FEMA spokeswoman said if you had burial or funeral insurance, pre-paid funeral contracts, or trust then you wouldn’t qualify for this reimbursement. Those are just a few examples of designated savings for funeral arrangements.

Officials say this program is for families who had to pay out of pocket and didn’t receive support for the funeral.

Wherry said they’ve worked with countless families who were in this position.

“[We] had some that just didn’t have it,” said Wherry. “With this program saying they will compensate them, I think that gave them some relief.”

But we need your help. If you have applied for this FEMA COVID-19 funeral assistance program, we want to hear from you about your experience.