Kansas Has Second-Worst FEMA Award Approval Rate

The latest numbers from FEMA show Kansas has the second-lowest percentage of applications that have been awarded money. Agency data released Tuesday shows 55 awards totaling slightly under $400,000 have been approved.

The outside of a FEMA building.
(TNS) -Families of Kansans who died from COVID-19 are waiting on potentially millions of dollars in federal funeral aid amid a backlog in the new program.

The latest numbers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency show Kansas has the second-lowest percentage of applications that have been awarded money. Agency data released Tuesday show 55 awards totaling slightly under $400,000 have been approved out of 1,704 applications so far for funeral assistance.

If the remaining 1,649 applications were approved at the current Kansas average of about $7,259, that would mean a backlog of about $12 million in payments to families across the state.

"Registrations are completed manually with the help of a specially trained call center representative," FEMA officials said in a statement explaining the backlog in Kansas. "In many cases, applicants do not have the necessary documentation when they initiate their claim, which can impact the timeline for those applications.

Requirements include an official death certificate after Jan. 20, 2020, from a U.S. state or territory that lists COVID-19 as a direct or indirect cause of death. Funeral expense documentation is required, such as receipts or contracts. Eligibility is not limited to U.S. citizens. FEMA is not permitted to duplicate benefits from other sources, such as burial insurance.

"The process can take some time but applicants can rest assured we are working on providing reimbursement for eligible applicants with properly documented and eligible expenses," the statement said.

Wait times for processing awards is 25 business days or less, FEMA officials said, once all required documentation has been received.

Rep. Ron Estes said he encourages people experiencing difficulties with receiving FEMA aid to contact his office.

" Congressman Estes cares very deeply about the concerns of constituents when it comes to dealing with federal agencies and has staff in his Wichita district office to assist constituents here in the 4th District of Kansas," his office said. "We can't guarantee a resolution, but we're always happy to assist Kansans in working with various federal agencies."

You can also contact The Eagle by email at online@wichitaeagle.com.

Backlogs of other financial aid have affected people during the coronavirus pandemic: the Kansas Department of Labor is on its fourth secretary within a year after the state's 1970s-era computer system buckled under the stress of an unprecedented number of unemployment claims.

Thousands of people have complained their unemployment benefits came late — or never.

With more than 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Kansas, funeral homes were busy, but thousands of people are again affected by backlogs in government benefits.

Kansas Funeral Directors Association Executive Director Pam Scott said COVID-19 deaths led to an uptick in business during 2020, but things have started to return back to normal.

FEMA financial assistance is capped at $9,000 per funeral. The national median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial in 2019 was $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

"It's somewhat unfortunate that this wasn't available when the funerals were happening because of the hardship on a lot of families," Scott said, adding that the money can now offset those previous expenses. "We hope people will take advantage of it."

The FEMA program is designed to help families that incurred funeral expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Applicants can call FEMA toll-free between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday at 844-684-6333. Individuals, not funeral homes, must make the application. Beneficiaries receive funds via a mailed check or direct deposit.

Qualified funeral expenses include caskets, burial plots, headstones, ceremonies, cremation and other costs.

More detailed information is available online from the FEMA question and answer page at www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance/faq.

"At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters," Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said in March. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate."

Funeral aid statistics

Funeral aid for COVID-19 was first approved with a $2 billion cap in a stimulus bill during the final weeks of the Trump administration. The program's eligibility and award amounts were expanded under the Biden administration and no longer has a funding cap.

FEMA applications opened April 12. In less than two months, the program has disbursed $128 million nationwide.

The program is picking up steam. Kansas went from two awards on May 10 to seven awards on May 24 and 55 awards as of Tuesday. Despite the past week's increase, the state's ranking moved from worst to second-worst for percentage of applications approved, at 3.23%.

Alaska is the only state with a worse percentage, at 2.17%, while Ohio is the best at 18.33%

When combining FEMA data with COVID statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kansas has the fourth-worst rate of awards per deaths and the 10th-fewest awards compared to population. About one out of every 100 COVID deaths in Kansas have received FEMA assistance, the data show.

There had been 5,076 deaths from COVID-19 reported in Kansas as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.

Aside from Kansans possibly being slower to submit documents to FEMA, there appears to be no explanation for the state's numbers in the first-come, first-served system. Compared to other states, Kansas is in the middle of the pack at applications per deaths and applications per population

Kansas has the 11th-highest average dollar amount approved per application, at $7,259.

Fraud prevention

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in April warned about scammers "preying on individuals who have lost a loved one to COVID-19."

Officials have reported scammers reaching out to survivors, posing as government employees and offering to help in the registration process. Those impostors attempt to get private financial information and documents in order to pocket the money themselves.

Schmidt's consumer protection advice states that government workers will not call you out of the blue to offer application assistance. Legitimate government employees will not contact you unsolicited to ask for Social Security numbers, bank account information or other similar information over the phone, email or social media.

Contributing: Michael Stavola of The Eagle

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