Some states offer assistance to families unable to afford funeral costs

Personal finance

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Financial help is often available to families unable to afford the funeral and burial costs for a loved one, but they may not realize it.

Although a number of states and counties have funds to assist residents with memorial expenses, the details of the resources can be buried on government websites and hard to track down at any time, let alone a traumatic and overwhelming one.

Still, the support — usually available only to those with little to no means — will be worth trying to find for many people. In 2021, the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848.

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“It’s a big problem for a lot of low-income people,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance.

To learn if there’s a burial assistance fund in your state or county, first turn to your local department of social service’s website, Slocum said.

Some of the programs have started offering people larger aid amounts during the pandemic.

Because information can be tricky to find, he added: “People may have to get on the phone and talk to a person.”

Each fund has different rules and procedures.

In New Jersey, for example, it’s the funeral home and cemetery that petition the state for the aid, typically after they have heard from a family with financial struggles, said George R. Kelder, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association. (Each year, between 7,000 and 8,000 residents receive the support, Kelder said.)

The funeral home may get up to $2,246 in government assistance, and the cemetery $524, although recent legislation signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will raise these amounts.

“A humane society recognizes that there’s an obligation to provide dignified care when someone is alive, and when their life ends,” Kelder said.

Delaware pays for “the burial in full” for many residents without the financial means, said Jim Biddle, the facilities manager at the state’s division of social services. There is no proof of income required, Biddle said.

The program, which covers embalming, vault and casket, “allows for the families and friends of the deceased to receive closure knowing that they were respected in death,” Biddle said.

Residents in Illinois who were receiving certain types of government assistance at the time of their death will also be eligible for burial assistance. The state will pay up to $1,370 for a funeral and as much as $686 for burial or cremation.

Similarly, those who were getting government aid in Massachusetts will also qualify for up to $1,100 in burial assistance. New York City has a program where low-income residents can apply for as much as $1,700 for funeral expenses.

In addition to state and country funds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering financial reimbursement for memorial costs to those who’ve lost someone due to Covid-19. Applicants can get up to $9,000 per person, and the agency doesn’t currently have any plan to stop accepting requests.

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