Ocasio-Cortez, Schumer Demand FEMA Release Funeral Assistance for COVID-19 Victims’ Families

September 15, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged FEMA to release funeral assistance to the families of COVID-19 victims. The representatives reached out to FEMA requesting this assistance in the Spring and received no response. Since then, however, President Trump has authorized FEMA to use Other Needs Assistance (ONA) for all the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Major Disaster Declarations through the Lost Wage Assistance Executive Order. This presidential authorization should give FEMA the authority to provide disaster funeral assistance to New York State and any other state that requests it, so the members urged FEMA to utilize it. The full letter is available below.


"COVID-19 has killed nearly 200,000 Americans - impacting frontline communities like those in my district the hardest,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “These vulnerable families shouldn’t have to bear the financial cost or enter new cycles of poverty on top of the enormous human and emotional toll they have already paid. The very least our country can do is help them bury their loved ones with dignity.”


“Families across New York, especially in Queens have already paid the ultimate price with the tragic loss of their loved ones to the coronavirus,” said U.S Senator Charles Schumer. “FEMA must use its latest authority to do the right thing during this crisis—exactly what they did after Hurricane Sandy— and make available the funeral funds Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and I have been asking for. New York families faced with mounting service and burial costs simply cannot afford to wait.”


Ocasio-Cortez also introduced a bill in May with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that, if enacted, would instruct FEMA to disperse $10,000 to cover the funeral expenses of those lost to the pandemic. A full copy of the bill is available here.



Full Letter from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Schumer to FEMA, September 15


Dear Administrator Gaynor:

While President Trump’s recent executive order on unemployment assistance is unworkable, weak, and narrow, it does provide an opportunity for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help the people of New York and, tragically, many Americans. As the President has now authorized FEMA to use Other Needs Assistance (ONA) for all the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Major Disaster Declarations, FEMA should utilize this authority to provide disaster funeral assistance to New York State and any other state that requests it.

On August 8, President Trump issued the “Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019.” While the President’s focus of this memorandum was to provide additional unemployment assistance, beyond the scope of what is allowed in the already existing Disaster Unemployment Assistance, this document has opened a new and important source of federal support to the hundreds of thousands of grieving families across New York and this country. That is Disaster Funeral Assistance. We wrote to you in April with a number of our colleagues, urging you to activate ONA and the subcategory best known as Disaster Funeral Assistance and your response was that it was under review. We are happy to see that ONA has now been approved and reiterate our call that you provide this assistance immediately, and retroactively, for all New Yorkers who lost a loved one to COVID-19.

When we wrote to you in the middle of April, New York had 200,000 confirmed cases and over 10,000 deaths. Since that initial letter, this number has climbed to a staggering 444,948 confirmed positive cases and a heart wrenching 25,394 deaths. The country as a whole has over 6,570,000 confirmed positive cases and almost 200,000 deaths. Those figures leave us speechless. Compounding the horrific loss of life, the families and loved ones of those loss are saddled with a funeral bill, all while the economy lays in shambles around them. As we have said to you on the phone and in letters before, this is unacceptable and FEMA must rise to the occasion and help our fellow Americans. Congress has provided FEMA with the statutory authority and ample funding to provide assistance to these people, the President has now authorized the use of the program in his August 8 memorandum, all that remains is for FEMA to act.

In addition to Disaster Funeral Assistance, now that ONA has been activated, households should be encouraged 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. ONA is built to be incredibly flexible and therefore can even cover childcare costs,

up to eight cumulative weeks, as well as reimbursement for eligible miscellaneous items to assist with an applicant’s disaster recovery as defined by state, territorial, and tribal governments.

While we deeply appreciate all that you and the people of FEMA have already done to assist New York during this difficult and tragic time, this is not the moment to shy away from your mission. New York needs you right now. We urge you to immediately, and retroactively, provide Disaster Funeral Assistance to New York, and any other state that should request it, and expeditiously publish guidance on how New Yorkers can utilize this program.

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, United States Senator

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Member of Congres