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I-TEAM: Looking at local FEMA funeral costs as COVID deaths rise

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 7:05 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Throughout this pandemic nearly 500 people have died from COVID-19 in Richmond County alone. Local funeral directors tell us they’ve never been so busy burying and cremating more people than ever, a grim reality as the delta variant grips the two-state.

The I-Team’s Meredith Anderson found FEMA funds are still available to cover death expenses. But she warns scammers could also be lurking.

For starters, you have to contact FEMA directly to start the process. FEMA isn’t going to call you if they do, that’s a big red flag. At stake – emergency funding could really help a family with funeral expenses they didn’t expect. Especially as younger people including local children have died recently from the virus.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Walker Posey.

Posey of Posey Funeral Directors North Augusta says his family business has never seen so much death at once since opening in 1879.

“Just in the last, you know, three days, I think we’ve had maybe seven or eight families who have lost a loved one to COVID. So, I mean, that’s here in our small community and in North Augusta CSRA. Just it’s hard to believe that, you know, it’s it’s hitting us that hard. But it’s a real thing. And it’s it’s happening,” he said.

Posey says what’s also unprecedented is the financial assistance from the federal government to cover funeral, burial or cremation costs.

Have you found people just aren’t aware?

“A lot of folks aren’t aware. So every family who comes in who has lost a loved one due to COVID we provide the FEMA forms for and help them reach out to the program,” he said.

The I-Team found families, regardless of income status, are eligible for reimbursement up to $9,000 for everything from caskets to headstones – even the cost of death certificates. But we also found this: a woman in the upstate of South Carolina telling her local CBS station scammers tried to capitalize on her FEMA funds after losing her husband to COVID last year. The I-Team found a warning from the AARP about the scam published earlier this year.

Any advice on how to protect yourself from that?

“I think it’s important that any documents you have like death certificates or things you kind of keep personal and keep private. But we have been fortunate to see any fraud in this in this area so far,” said Posey.

But less fortunate locally when it comes to COVID deaths Posey estimates FEMA claims in the two-state will be in the hundreds.

Does it affect your day in and day out, just seeing more and more people?

“I think it just, for me personally, it really just speaks to the need, we have as a society to look at the greater good. And I mean, to get vaccinated, regardless of your political belief system. You know, at this point, we need to listen to our health care workers and do whatever we can to you know, to stop this because it’s not going away on its own,” he said.

To help, Posey is giving his customers this packet to his customers as a quick rundown of the program. All you need is a death certificate that lists COVID as the cause and your receipts. Then you contact FEMA to file. Posey says on average the reimbursement is taking five to six months.

To file with FEMA visit their website: https://www.fema.gov/.

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