Widow unable to get funeral paid for due to fine print in COVID-19 assistance rules

MEBANE, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you lost a loved one to COVID-19, you could get thousands of dollars to help cover funeral expenses.

There are billions of dollars in federal aid ready to be given to families, but the majority of that money is going untouched.

Ida Mims is one of those who applied for the funds but got denied.

"They wouldn't consider my application to be refunded for the funeral expense because COVID was not on the death certificate," Mims added.

Mims lost her 86-year-old husband, Herbert, in December of 2020.

"I think COVID was the cause of everything. He was good until he came down with this cough."

From the cough, Herbert got worse with a fever. When he went to the VA, doctor's diagnosed him with COVID-19 in November of 2020.

"After he came home that Friday, he didn't get any better; he continued to get worse and I had to call the rescue twice," she recalled. Once Herbert was rushed to the hospital, he never returned home.

Herbert was transferred to several different medical facilities and each time health records denote evidence of COVID in his system. Weeks after being diagnosed with the virus, Herbert passed away.

Mims buried her husband, paying more than $8,000 in funeral expenses. She filed a claim with FEMA--because the government claims it will reimburse up to $9,000 in funeral expenses for people who died from COVID-19. However, to qualify, FEMA requires that COVID-19 must be stated on the person's death certificate.

In Herbert's case it's not, his death certificate states sepsis due to staphylococcus and pneumonia.

"The pneumonia was due to COVID, so why put pneumonia and not put COVID? I don't understand that," Mims said.

Mims attempts to get the doctor to change the death certificate failed.

"I would like to know his reason for not putting it on the death certificate since all the information is there that he had COVID," Mims said. Troubleshooter Diane Wilson did contact the hospital where Herbert passed away, and a representative said they could not provide specific details due to patient privacy, but they could confirm that all concerns raised about the accuracy of documentation have been reviewed and corrected where appropriate. The hospital said it stands by the accuracy of the death certificate for Herbert.

Mims is not alone as there are similar reports of others facing the same obstacles when navigating FEMA's funeral assistance requirements.

The latest data from FEMA shows that while nearly $1.8 billion in assistance has been given to about 273,000 families, that's less than a third of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Breaking down those numbers even further, in North Carolina, out of the 13,655 applications for FEMA funeral funds, only 66.8% of those have been approved.

Wilson reached out to FEMA about Mims' case and due to privacy reasons the agency said it can't speak on the case, but encouraged Mims to call the helpline to review specific details.

There is no deadline to apply, so if a loved one did pass away from COVID-19, you can still apply for assistance. Just remember, you need all the required paperwork which does include COVID-19 being listed on the death certificate.
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