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Dealing with funeral poverty during the pandemic

Posted at 10:29 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 11:29:07-05

When we think of poverty, it comes in many forms, including housing, jobs, food and clothing — but due to COVID-19, the cost of funerals has become a poverty issue as well.

Nearly 7,500 people in Nebraska and Iowa have passed away due to the pandemic.

Last week, FEMA and members of congress announced help for low-income people to get financial assistance to bury a loved one.

The average funeral costs about $9,000 dollars, according to a Creighton University study.

Most low-income people will have a hard time coming up with an unexpected $400 for an emergency, let alone be able to pay for a funeral.

Help for those having to bury a loved one due to COVID-19 is here.

The government has announced that those in need can receive up to $7,000 in reimbursement from FEMA for funeral services.

Funeral poverty was a focus of a recent study done by Victoria Haneman at Creighton University.

"For a large part of Americans, this pandemic is devastating in a way we don't talk about," said Haneman.

While in mourning, the sudden and unexpected deaths due to COVID-19 have had families making adjustments.

"We've seen everything, we've seen people have a cremation and wait for a service, we've had people not choose a cremation but just a graveside service with the idea to do something later," said Bill Cutler, a funeral director with Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries.

During this sometimes longer than usual wait, some funeral homes charge storage fees.

“Deathcare services are the third-largest expense for consumers behind housing and cars,” said Haneman.

Because of the expense, more families are turning to cremation.

But along with dealing with the deaths, the wait times and the financial burden, the emotional effects are taking a toll.

"People have been robbed of their traditions, some feel as if they do not have closure, that their loved ones have been robbed of their dignity," said Haneman.

Haneman suggests people look into green burials, which include getting rid of things like grave liners and grave vaults to save money.

Cutler said the $7,000 will be helpful for some, but it won't change the way he does business.

"Funeral service people work with families of all means. At our firm we would never not honor a family's wishes waiting to get money from FEMA," said Cutler.

A total of $2 billion has been set aside to help families with funeral costs.

However, how the actual roll-out and process of getting the up to $7,000 reimbursements have yet to be decided.

With the pandemic, people are turning to live-streamed funerals, which Haneman said may stick around after the pandemic is over.

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