AOC introduces bill to provide burial costs for COVID-19 victims

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo courtesy of the office of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

With over 20,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in NY-14, and twice the infection rate of all of Manhattan, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents one of the hardest hit districts in the country.

Knowing so many of her constituents are getting sick and dying, she introduced the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act, which, if enacted, would instruct FEMA to disperse $10,000 to cover the funeral expenses of those lost to the pandemic.

In addition to their emotional toll, these deaths can further strain a family’s finances and create new cycles of poverty, particularly as the United States faces the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression.

“We know COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “The absolute least we can do is to help these families bury their loved ones. It is the very core, basic measure of human dignity. And in the richest country in the world, we should be able to allow people to bury their loved ones in dignity.”

The bill would create a COVID-19 Burial Fund, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Disbursements of funds would be backdated to Jan. 21, to account for those that have already been buried. Given the great need, the FEMA administrator will be required to establish a fund within 30 days of enactment and provide payment within 30 days of an application being submitted. To qualify for these funds, an applicant must comply with the following conditions:

  • The applicant must demonstrate a common familial relationship of the deceased or an eligible funeral home applying for an unclaimed body to apply for funds.
  • The deceased must have died as a result of COVID-19 or COVID-19 related complications, which has been certified through documentation from a state, local, territorial or tribal (SLTT) government licensed medical official, such as the medical examiner, coroner, nurse, nursing assistant, doctor or emergency medical technician or warden.
  • FEMA must be able to verify the applicant’s identity.
  • The applicant must provide receipts or verifiable estimates indicating the applicant incurred or will incur eligible interment, reinterment or funeral expenses.

Ocasio-Cortez previously joined with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer in demanding that FEMA use its authority to immediately grant approval for Disaster Funeral Assistance across New York. That letter was co-signed by Senator Gillibrand and Representatives Serrano, Nadler, Meng, Espaillat, Maloney, Velázquez, King and Suozzi.

The letter is available in full here.

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