FEMA program for Covid-19 victims stumbles over death-certificate data problems

FEMA has notified families that there is a lack of documentation and that their relative’s death certificate must be changed in order to receive a payout. However, the change process is cumbersome, and doctors and medical examiners are pushing to change the cause of death unless there is definitive evidence – such as: Test results – that a person succumbed to Covid-19. The result is that many people in real financial need who have lost relatives to the virus cannot get help. It’s another inequality in a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed marginalized Americans.

People seeking funeral assistance have reported to FEMA in the past few weeks about resistance from medical staff to changing death certificates, the two senior administrative officials said.

“It’s not like I can test them now,” said Priya Banerjee, a forensic pathologist with experience handling Covid-19 cases. “I wouldn’t change it if I didn’t have evidence. Covid is another medical diagnosis that needs to be proven and not accepted. I also don’t want to help people make false claims. It should go to the people who qualify . “

The reluctance of doctors and medical examiners to change death certificates is likely to delay or severely limit Americans’ ability to receive FEMA assistance, raising questions about how the agency will ensure people get the money they get While preventing widespread fraud. Senior FEMA officials have long been concerned about the prospect of fraudsters filing forged death certificates.

A FEMA spokesperson told POLITICO that the agency’s current financial assistance requirements are a “tentative policy”.

For the past few weeks, FEMA officials have met with Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other senior officials from the agency, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Having talked about the problem Voters were hardest hit in the first few months of the pandemic and pressed for the Funeral program.

These conversations focused on ways to ease the burden on those seeking help – possibly by changing the policy of change, particularly affecting New Yorkers. The virus soared in the city at the start of the US outbreak, and many people died there before the CDC advised hospitals to use “Covid-19” on death certificates. FEMA has so far allocated $ 10 million to New Yorkers.

“We are actively working with FEMA to ensure that empathy and flexibility go to the core of this support,” said Lauren Hitt, director of communications at Ocasio-Cortez, in a statement.

One of the senior government officials who spoke to POLITICO said the Democrats on Capitol Hill originally pushed for FEMA to accept death Certificates listing the symptoms most commonly associated with Covid-19, such as pneumonia. FEMA was quick to deny that request, the official said, as these symptoms could also be linked to a variety of other viruses and diseases outside of Covid-19.

FEMA is also considering giving people whose loved ones died in Spring 2020 but did not list Covid-19 on their death certificates the option to submit a certified letter from the original doctor or medical examiner explaining how the person was has died. FEMA has accepted similar letters in the past – including statements following Hurricane Katrina confirming that a person’s death was related to the storm.

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