State funeral funds remain stagnant after pandemic

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Capital News Service

LANSING –  Unlike several other states, Michigan has not upped the financial assistance provided to low-income residents for funeral and burial services since the COVID pandemi.

The up to $600 offered by Michigan is more than just one of the 20 states that offer such assistance.

“For us, it would be helpful if families got a little more money,” said Alec Gary, the manager of Hall-Kokotovich Funeral Home in Gladwin. “I come from a fairly low-income area, so it would help out the families I serve and cut out some expenses of the funeral.”

Across the United States, friends and families of those who died from COVID were eligible for up to $9,000 in funeral assistance through FEMA. The program distributed nearly $3 billion to people all over the country, and just under $100 million of that amount went to about 16,000 Michiganders, according to the agency.

“Compared to the FEMA COVID relief, the Michigan relief is hardly anything,” Gary said.

That federal support is still available for COVID deaths. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are among the states that have increased their support for funeral expenses of non-COVID deaths, according to Stateline, a daily publication reporting on trends as a part of the Pew Research Center.

The up to $600 offered by Michigan surprised some people who were expecting more aid for burials, said Lindsey Rogers, the co-owner of Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City.

“From the funeral home side, it’s really stressful,” Rogers said. “We are just trying to help the family, and when the state only has so much to give, the family says, ‘Oh, the state will just pay for it.’ Unfortunately, the state doesn’t pay for everything.”

Around 20 states offer funeral assistance. Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia and Delaware each offer over $1,000.  Alaska offers up to $2,500, the most of any state. Michigan offers more than only one  – Wyoming, which pays up to $500.

The state Department of Health and Human Services offers help for burial, cremation and funeral  expenses for those who cannot afford it,  said Bob Wheaton, the public information officer for that agency. The department also provides assistance for burial expenses for Michigan residents whose remains are unclaimed.

“Families should not have to worry about being able to pay for the burial of their loved ones as they deal with their loss,” he said.

Applicants for the financial assistance must apply within 10 business days of the death. The remains must be in Michigan. 

The applicants can be any relative, someone named in a will to arrange burial, a special administrator or a legal guardian appointed by probate court or a person who had durable power of attorney at the time of death, Wheaton said.

“We want to help every family and show them all the choices,” Rogers said. “The application process itself isn’t that difficult. We have even gone to the Department of Health and Human Services with some families to show them where to go.”

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