Braun & Grassley call for oversight on FEMA COVID Funeral Assistance Program

Indiana

WASHINGTON – Senator Mike Braun & Senator Chuck Grassley have sent a letter to Michael Horowitz, Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, calling for oversight of FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program. 

The Senators wrote in the letter that 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.”

Reasons for concern cited in the letter include:

  • The Frequently-Asked-Questions section of the FEMA website provides guidance on how to amend a death certificate if “[t]he death certificate doesn’t attribute the death to COVID-19.”
     
  • FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program eligibility criteria issued on April 14 stated there is no requirement for the decedent to have been a U.S. citizen.
     
  • On the first day, FEMA’s call center received over one million calls. While a high demonstration of interest is not a problem in of itself, compared to the number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 the level of interest in this program – when paired with the broad eligibility criteria and high payment amounts – is an indication the Program may be ripe for fraud.

Senators Braun and Grassley are calling for an audit or investigation into the FEMA Funeral Assistance Program. Specifically, asking that the relevant report include:

  1. 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.
  2. As an attachment, all FEMA documents guidance, and communications that are cited in the report.
  3. The actions FEMA took to deter fraud within the program.
  4. The average amount of benefit provided.
  5. The number of applicants that utilized amended death certificates and the states and localities they were from.
  6. The number of decedents that did not have legal immigration status.

The full letter is available to read below:

Dear Chair Horowitz,

On Monday, April 12, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the reintroduction of the Coronavirus Funeral Assistance Program (the Program). The Program was initially implemented according to the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and reauthorized by Section 4006 of the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided broad instruction for FEMA to “provide financial assistance to an individual or household to meet disaster-related funeral expenses under section 408(e)(1) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5174(e)(1)).” The statute instructed FEMA to provide a 100 percent federal cost share for such assistance.

We 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. There are several reasons for our concern.

First, the Frequently-Asked-Questions section of the FEMA website provides guidance on how to amend a death certificate if “[t]he death certificate doesn’t attribute the death to COVID-19.” The guidance provides instruction to potential applicants on amending a death certificate in the event that the certificate currently held by the applicant would not qualify. 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 report, falsely, a death which “may have been cause by” COVID-19.

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