Schumer & Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Demand Feds Approve ‘Disaster Funeral & Burial Assistance’ For New York; Families—Many In Low-Income Communities—Continue To See Coronavirus Deaths Rise, Incomes Disappear & Expenses Like A Proper Burial Become Impossible; Feds Must Act Now

April 14, 2020

Standing In Corona Plaza, Ground Zero For Coronavirus Infections and Deaths, Schumer & Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Make The Compelling Case For Feds To Do What They Did After ‘Sandy’ & Deliver Special Funds To NY Families Faced With Coronavirus Funeral Costs They Simply Cannot Afford—From Caskets To Burial 

New York Application To Green-Light These Critical Payments To Those Now Struggling Awaits A FEMA Decision; And With NY Deaths At More Than 10k & Rising Across NYC Alone, Reps Say The Need Is Urgent & Approval Needed Now   

Sen. Schumer & Rep. Ocasio-Cortez To FEMA: Families Across New York Are Already Paying The Ultimate Price; Special FEMA Funds For Funeral Costs Are Essential    

Queens, NYStanding near Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NY, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanded today that the federal government via the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) use its authority to immediately grant approval for ‘Disaster Funeral Assistance’ across New York. The federal representatives said New York, and in particular, the Congresswoman’s district in both Queens and the Bronx, has been the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and that too many families, many in lower-income communities and communities of color, who have already paid the ultimate price, are faced with a crushing additional burden: expensive funeral and burial costs.

Senator Schumer’s and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor appears below and here:

“Families across New York, and right here in Queens, are already paying the ultimate price with the tragic loss of their loved ones to the coronavirus,” said Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez. “That is why FEMA must do the right thing during this crisis, exactly what they did after Hurricane Sandy, and deliver special funds to New York families faced with mounting funeral and burial costs they simply cannot afford.”

With New York City coronavirus cases at more than 100,000 and climbing, and 10,000 deaths, Schumer and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez explained that following pressure from the federal delegation, President Trump approved a “Major Disaster Declaration” on March 20th. They said now FEMA must approve special funeral assistance, which is currently under review. Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez made the case for the urgent need, and for why a swift approval is so critical to struggling families in crisis.  

The neighborhood of Corona, Queens has the highest number of positive COVID-19 tests of any zip code in the country.  Of all the zip codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, half of the top ten reside in NY-14.  Latinx people also comprise 34 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths in New York City, the largest share for any racial or ethnic group. Bronx residents are twice as likely to die from the virus as other New York City residents.

Senator Schumer’s and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor:

Dear Administrator Gaynor:

We write today to thank you for all your hard work in supporting New York’s battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, and to urge you to approve the Individual Assistance still listed as under review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Major Disaster Declaration announcement. Specifically, we request you grant New Yorkers access to and flexibility under the Individuals and Households Program, including Other Needs Assistance and Disaster Funeral Assistance. Access and flexibility in implementation of these programs will help alleviate the burden families are facing during these times.

Our state represents the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak here in the United States, in the number of cases and number of deaths. As of April 13, New York State Department of Health reported over 195,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York, with over 106,000 in New York City alone. Tragically, at least 10,056 people have perished in our home state because of this outbreak. These estimates are unfortunately projected to be undercounts of what the true impact COVID-19 has had on our state. 

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5207 (the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to grant a Major Disaster Declaration for any natural catastrophe that the president determines has caused damage of sufficient severity and magnitude. On March 20, the President granted the nation’s first Major Disaster Declaration in response to the COVID-19 outbreak right here in New York. We deeply appreciate the diligent work of FEMA in helping New York combat the COVID-19 outbreak, but in the month since the original declaration, the situation in New York has evolved and we need additional assistance.

In its original application, New York State requested Individual Assistance for all New Yorkers through the Individuals and Households Program (IHP). We strongly support New York’s request for this program to be activated. Within the IHP, FEMA can provide Financial Housing Assistance, including lodging expense reimbursement for those who must quarantine away from their loved ones, as well as access to the catch-all category Other Needs Assistance. 44 CFR § 206.119 outlines the qualifying expenses under the Other Needs Assistance provision, and while some of these are dependent on an applicant requesting and being rejected for a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan, such as transportation assistance, we see a particular need for the non-SBA dependent types of Other Needs Assistance. Paramount among these is access to the Disaster Funeral Assistance program.

As the tragic number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise in New York, individuals who are facing incredible loss are also being saddled with an additional financial burden. This comes at a time of record unemployment, almost 16 million people were able to file for unemployment insurance over the past three weeks, according to the Department of Labor, though these figures are likely an undercount. Disaster Funeral Assistance would help individuals and households cover unexpected and uninsured expenses associated with the death of an immediate family member. These expenses include: cost of the casket, mortuary services, death certificates, and cremation or interment. We also ask for maximum flexibility in implementation and the application process for individuals, as the rate of deaths and high spread of COVID-19 has made it extremely difficult to maintain normal operating procedures of the death certification and burial process.

In addition to Disaster Funeral Assistance, individuals and households would be eligible to apply for Disaster Medical Assistance. This program would help cover the medical costs people face when diagnosed with COVID-19, including medications and insurance co-payments. Other Needs Assistance also covers childcare costs, up to eight cumulative weeks, and a provision to reimburse for eligible miscellaneous items to assist with an applicant’s disaster recovery as defined by state, territorial, and tribal governments.

While we understand that granting New York access to the IHP may inspire other states to seek the same declaration, no other state has experienced such a severe and disproportionate impact from COVID-19 like New York. New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than a third of all cases in the United States and almost half of all recorded deaths in the United States, and so New York deserves special consideration from FEMA in granting additional categories of Individual Assistance, like the Individuals and Households Program. Granting access to the IHP and Other Needs Assistance is also not an unprecedented move following major disasters. For instance, following the unprecedented Hurricane Sandy, FEMA provided over $1.6 billion in IHP assistance.

While we appreciate all you and people of FEMA have done to assist New York during this difficult and tragic time, we urge you to provide additional support to New York State as expeditiously as possible.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, if you have questions please do not hesitate to contact our staff.   


Charles E. Schumer                                                                Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

United States Senator                                                             Member of Congress