This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2021 issue of the Memorial Business Journal.
Two Republican senators have sent a letter to the chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee calling for oversight of FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program.
In their letter to Michael Horowitz, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana) said they are “concerned that the lack of congressional direction under this program, the high payment amounts of up to $35,500 per applicant and the resulting guidance issued by FEMA will result in the program being one rampant with fraud.”
They listed several reasons for their concern:
- The Frequently Asked Questions section of the FEMA website provides guidance on how to amend a death certificate if the certificate “doesn’t attribute the death to COVID-19.” It is unclear what checks FEMA has in place to ensure that the death certificates submitted under the program are authentic and have not been amended to falsely report a death that “may have been caused by COVID-19.
- FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program eligibility criteria, issued April 14, stated that there is no requirement for the decedent to have been a U.S. citizen. “While FEMA guidance indicates that payments under the program may be issued to qualified aliens and other foreign nationals as compliant, it is concerning that FEMA’s guidance does not prevent payments to be issued to cover ineligible entities – a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars,” stated the senators.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that there have been approximately 560,000 fatalities caused by the coronavirus since it was first reported in the United States January 21, 2020. FEMA’s program call center report indicates that many who contacted the FEMA helpline on the first days may be ineligible. “While high demonstration of interest is not a problem in and of itself, such interests, when paired with broad eligibility criteria and high payment amounts, are an indication the program may be ripe for fraud,” said the senators.
Braun and Grassley are calling for an audit or investigation into the FEMA Funeral Assistance Program. Specifically, they ask that the report include the following:
- Statistical and biographical information of approved and applied decedents, including the number of applications received from each state, race, age, gender, income level and region
- All FEMA documents, guidance and communications cited in the report
- The actions undertaken by FEMA to deter fraud within the program
- Average amount of benefit provided
- Number of applicants who utilized amended death certificates, and the states and localities from which they came
- Number of decedents who did not have legal immigration status.
Earlier this month, FEMA reported that as of May 3, the agency had received more than 164,900 funeral assistance applications and has awarded more than $7.8 million.