Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Monday that New Yorkers whose relatives died from COVID-19 will soon become eligible to apply for reimbursement of up to $7,000 in funeral expenses.

The New York Democrats said at an event in Corona, Queens, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will make available $2 billion in funeral assistance funds under legislation signed into law in December— with about $200 million expected to go to New Yorkers.

The Empire State was the original epicenter of infections in the US and has the highest death toll from COVID-19, with more than 44,000 fatalities.

“Nothing breaks your heart more than seeing parents and grandparents on Zoom saying goodbye to their children and grandchildren,” Schumer said at the press conference.

“They’re in the hospital dying of COVID. They can’t hug each other. They can’t be near each other. They can’t kiss each other. It’s awful. It brings tears to my eyes when I see some of these pictures. But compounding the injury, once the loved one passes away, many of these families because of COVID don’t have money for a proper funeral and a proper burial. And that is just awful and inhumane.”

FEMA is setting up a 1-800 hotline with instructions, the legislators said. Applicants will have to provide identification indicating they are related to the person, a death certificate and documentation of the expenses.

A similar program was implemented after the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, which contributed directly or indirectly to an estimated 157 deaths in the US.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking in Corona, Queens on February 8, 2021.Dennis A. Clark

Schumer said, “If you are a family who couldn’t afford or had to just stretch and went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000 from FEMA.”

“Together we are going to make sure that FEMA implements this well, that it is done in a way that is easy for families to apply and get the dollars,” he said.

The deaths must have occurred in 2020, but Schumer said that the legislators are working to ensure the program remains throughout the pandemic.

Ocasio-Cortez said, “We were all in the same storm, [but] we weren’t all in the same boat. Some of us were riding very choppy waters.”

“I lost my dad when I was about 18 years old and the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family, along with many other families in a similar position, for years,” she said.

“When you suddenly lose a loved one, you’re talking about an expense of four, five, seven, ten thousand dollars. And then during COVID with overrun funeral facilities, etc, families also are having to deal with having to pay for the storage of the bodies of their loved ones. This is wrong.”

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