A word of advice for those trying to get reimbursed for COVID-related funeral expenses: be prepared to wait on hold for a long time and have all your information ready.
It's been almost a year since Carr Alexis lost his father.
“He was a big, great influence and was a great man, a great person," Alexis said. "He was like the backbone of the family. Provider, supporter, anything you needed, anything he could do helped his family and friends. I could go on and on and on.”
Some health problems and prior illnesses landed him in the hospital last July, but no one was prepared for the fact that he'd never come home.
“One thing I could say, he really looked so peaceful once they, you know. But I was still confused, and saying his name, and my sister is crying and then the nurse was like, 'Your father has moved on,'" Alexis said.
Alexis had to say goodbye to his dad on Zoom. Then, he had to figure out how to pay for a funeral — something no one is ever ready for.
"The process of preparing my dad for unexpected passing was a lot of moving around and last-minute money and pulling money out of stuff from work," Alexis said. "It was a lot of last-minute funds that was so unexpected.”
When he heard about the FEMA reimbursement, he knew he had to apply. But then he sat on the phone for a full 90 minutes.
It's a familiar story. Some are reporting busy signals or never even connecting with a representative.
“Get your ducks in a row. Do your homework first. You only want to make that phone call once you don’t want to wait an hour and a half ever again,” Alexis said.
Ed Michael Reggie is the CEO of Funeralocity.com, a comparison website of funeral homes and cremation providers.
"We’re the only place on the internet with the prices of every funeral home and cremation provider in America," Reggie said.
He also helps people navigate the process and says, while the FEMA reimbursement is a generous benefit, it's an arduous task to apply, and that's on purpose.
“A scammer could easily call a family and say, 'I’m calling from FEMA,' or they could call the funeral home and say, 'I’m the Smith family. You buried my mom. Could you send me the receipt?'" Reggie said. "And sure enough, FEMA is properly concerned about that because it’s fraught with opportunities for fraud.”
It's enough of a problem that the government put a big, red tab on their site, warning people about possible scams. Those scammers are after your identity, and FEMA knows it.
Experts recommend collecting all of your information ahead of time, and be prepared to answer financial questions.
"Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged with the whole thing because, as I say, be persistent and patient,” Alexis said.
He had the information ready, and while it took a while, he got through it and is now waiting on the money.
His patient nature helped him through it. Ironically, he says, patience is a trait he got from his Dad.