By Dean Moses
On Feb. 8, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accompanied one another at 103 Street-Corona Plaza in the shadow of the 7-train in Queens on Monday morning to announce the allotment of funds to aid with COVID-19 related funeral expenses.
New Yorkers have seen the rate of deaths skyrocket since March of last year in a way they haven’t seen since war times. To aid with the financial burden that comes with a memorial service, Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez announced that $2 billion in funds will be released to assist with the cost of burial and cremation services for hundreds of thousands of people who died across the United States from COVID-19. In New York City alone, well over 35,000 lives have been lost to the novel coronavirus. The influx of those who passed away overwhelmed hospitals, morgues, and funeral homes to the point where bodies were, and are still, being held in freezers as families attempt to gather service funds for their loved ones.
“Families across New York are already paying the ultimate price with the tragic loss of their loved ones to the coronavirus,” Schumer began. “For families, the unspeakable loss of a loved one is being exacerbated by the substantial costs of funerals and burials that many cannot afford right now. This historic use of FEMA’s funeral assistance program helps ensure those grappling with this crisis are not also saddled with the financial burden of exorbitant funeral costs, and that is what Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and I worked to deliver here—and we got it done. The work now centers on making sure eligible families know this is happening and know how to access the funds—that’s why our next job is to get the word out.”
Queens was the epicenter of the New York City pandemic in March and April, which is why both Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez believe it was fitting to announce that of the $2 billion in funeral relief funds, New York City will be receiving up to $260 million.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer have been pushing for the federal government to provide help to families who yearn to bury their loved ones but lack the funds. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, FEMA provided disaster relief. For months, Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez pleaded with the federal government for aid, and now they push for it legislatively.
“Millions of people across the country and thousands of New Yorkers have lost loved ones due to the pandemic and adding significantly to the emotional and financial burdens they were already dealing with. In the complete lack of adequate federal support, the least we could push for was for financial assistance to families burying their loved ones during this pandemic. After fighting for this relief all year, New Yorkers can now give their loved one a proper burial without going into debt. I thank Senator Schumer for his support and partnership in this effort,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
FEMA will provide up to $7,000 in burial relief retroactively since the beginning of the pandemic (Jan. 20, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020), and reimbursement payments for those who have faced financial hardships after laying their loved ones to rest. Both elected officials say that the funds will be available soon and if anyone needs assistance applying, their offices are ready to help. A direct call center will be developed once the application process opens with a caseworker to assist eligible individuals, as well as an online portal site to submit forms.
For now, Schumer is urging all those who would like to apply to prepare the following documentation: identification for the caller and relation to the deceased, death certificate (showing related to COVID-19), costs associated with funeral, and coordination with family members and the city and state on who will submit the claim as they are “next of kin.”
“When you suddenly lose a loved one, you are talking about an expense of $4,000, $5,000, $7,000, $10,000 and then during COVID with overrun funeral facilities, etc. Families are also having to pay for the storage of the bodies of their own loved ones. This is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding “Once again, if you are a family lost a loved one, please make sure that you start to document and please make sure that you start to collect all documentation of the costs of burying a loved one. So that we can make sure that we can reimburse the cost to your family up to $7,000.”
Joining Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez at the press conference were Frankie Miranda, Executive Director of Hispanic Federation, Nathaly Rubio-Torio, Executive Director of Voces Latina and the Executive Director of the Elmcor Senior Center, who shared the drastic impact the pandemic has had on low-income, and black and brown communities.
“Right now we have an opportunity to correct a little bit of that pain in our community. We need to make sure that everybody in our community and communities of color know about this incredible opportunity that it will somehow relieve them from the enormous pain that they have already suffered,” said Frankie Miranda, Executive Director of Hispanic Federation.
While Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer have teamed for this public showcase to announce the funeral relief fund that will be coming soon, it is rumored that Schumer is preparing to defend himself against his progressive counterpart amidst his 2022 re-election. Swirling whispers say that Ocasio-Cortez may challenge for the seat, depending on how Schumer handles the upcoming year. Only time will tell if this display of partnership will quell these rumblings.