BOSTON The Federal Emergency Management Agency has doled out nearly $54 million to Massachusetts residents to help them bury family and loved ones who have died of COVID-19, according to newly released federal data.

As of Aug. 1, at least 9,714 Massachusetts residents have applied for the federal assistance though 7,865 actually received the reimbursement, according to a FEMA report.

The payments were authorized by Congress as part of a FEMA program funded by the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Funeral directors say the program has been crucial to helping many low-income families cover the unexpected costs of burying their loved ones during the pandemic.

“Most families hadn’t expected to have losses until the vehemence of COVID-19, so many weren’t prepared,” said John Bresnahan, president of the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association. “This program has helped a lot of people.”

Bresnahan, a managing partner at Devanny-Condron Funeral Home in Pittsfield, said funeral directors aren’t directly involved in processing the applications for funding but have been informing families about the program.

“Funeral homes weren’t allowed to apply for the funds,” he said. “It has to be a member of the family or a responsible party.”

Massachusetts was hit hard by COVID-19 with more than 1.8 million confirmed cases to date and more than 20,000 deaths since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Nationwide, FEMA has provided more than $2.7 billion to over 420,000 individuals and families to assist with COVID-19-related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after Jan. 20, 2020.

This assistance has helped covered costs for the funerals of more than 430,000 people who died from COVID-19, according to the federal agency.

Texas has received the largest amount of money through the FEMA program, or an estimated $248 million as of Aug. 1. California has been reimbursed for about $220 million in funeral expenses while Florida has received about $155 million according to the federal agency.

New Hampshire residents have received more than $6.7 million in reimbursements covered funeral expenses for 1,135 burials, according to FEMA

To qualify for funding, applicants must include a death certificate attributing the death to COVID-19 or as a contributing factor. If the death occurred before May 16, 2020, a statement from the certifying official on the death certificate, medical examiner or coroner is required.

The assistance can be authorized before a funeral with a signed funeral home contract, invoice or similar legal documentation. The expenses can also be reimbursed after a funeral, according to the agency.

To be sure, the multi-billion FEMA program has faced scrutiny from federal watchdogs who say the agency has been reimbursing people for ineligible expenses such as flowers, prayer cards, catering and transportation.

A report released in April by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office criticized FEMA for approving funeral reimbursements for items that were “expressly excluded” under the agency’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide, which determines how funeral assistance aid is allocated.

“FEMA is putting millions of taxpayer dollars at an elevated risk of waste and abuse by reimbursing funeral expenses identified as ineligible by its own policies,” the report’s authors wrote.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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