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FEMA consults with Tribal Leaders on Funeral Assistance

Media Release Friday, March 5, 2021

Shawn Bitsui

The Coronavirus Pandemic has been deadly for Native American Tribes. “We lost 1,194 tribal members to this virus, which led us to exhaust our general funds to pay for funeral expenses,” stated Navajo Nation President Johnathan Nez.

On March 4, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) consulted with Tribal Leaders on the impacts and aftermath of Covid-19 and its effects on Native communities. Recently approved federal funding of $2 billion in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, requires FEMA to provide reimbursable Funeral Assistance to cover expenses caused by Covid-19.

The Funeral assistance is available for all Covid-19 related fatalities between the dates of January 20, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and is 100% federally managed with no cost share. Individual or per household reimbursement monies is capped at $35,500. All tribal members are eligible to apply and must provide a death certificate stating Covid-19 played a role in the passing of an individual, proof of funeral expenses, and insurance or documentation of other assistance received for funeral expenditures.

Several concerns were expressed during the consultation by Tribal leaders. The funding timeline covers expenses incurred only in year 2020 and is restricted to “individual” funeral assistance. Most Tribal governments provided direct funeral assistance to families, and therefore are not eligible for the Funeral Assistance program. Furthermore, justifying and quantifying “indigenous” funeral expenses alone, is complicated since Tribal members do not always follow common westernized, funeral practices using caskets, funeral homes, and headstones.

Tribal leaders agreed, “There needs to be further discussion on how this application process can be filed through tribal governments, there seems to be a disconnect between FEMA and Tribal governments.”

FEMA is accepting questions and feedback through March 15, 2021 at


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