FEMA has informed families who do not have documentation that they need to modify their relative’s death certificate to receive a payment. But the process of amendments is cumbersome and doctors and forensic doctors resort to changing the cause of death, unless there is definitive evidence, such as the results of the tests, that a person succumbed to Covid-19. The result is that many people with a real financial need who have lost relatives to the virus cannot get help. It is another inequality in a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed marginalized Americans.
People requesting funeral assistance have told FEMA in recent weeks about the resistance of medical staff to modifying death certificates, the two senior administration officials said.
“It’s not like I could go back and try them now,” said Priya Banerjee, a forensic pathologist with experience in handling Covid-19 cases. “I wouldn’t change it if I didn’t have proof. Covid is another medical diagnosis that must be proven and not assumed. I also wouldn’t want to help people make a false claim. It has to go to the people who meet the requirements ”.
The hesitation on the part of doctors and forensic doctors to change death certificates is likely to significantly delay or limit the ability of Americans to receive FEMA assistance, and raise questions about how the agency will ensure that people get the money in the US. which is entitled, while also avoiding widespread fraud. Senior FEMA officials have long been concerned about the possibility of scammers filing forged death certificates.
A FEMA spokesman told POLITICO that the current financial assistance requirements for the agency amount to a “provisional policy.”
In recent weeks, FEMA officials have spoken about the problem with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky and other senior officials of the agency, along with representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the constituents were one of the hardest hit in the early months of the pandemic and propelled the funeral program.
These talks have focused on ways to reduce the burden on people seeking help, possibly by changing the amendment policy, which especially affects New Yorkers. The virus emerged in the city early in the U.S. outbreak and many people died before the CDC began advising hospitals to use “Covid-19” in death certificates. FEMA has so far allocated $ 10 million to New Yorkers.
“We are actively working with FEMA to ensure that empathy and flexibility become the core of this assistance,” Lauren Hitt, director of communications at Ocasio-Cortez, said in a statement, adding that approximately 280 of 190,029 applications have been determined unfit for funeral assistance. None of those rejections were due to people not having Covid-19 on their death certificate, Hitt said. But FEMA guidelines tell people to first try to modify the death certificate if it does not include Covid-19, and federal officials say those amendments are still pending.
“I have brought together FEMA and New York City and the state so that they can work to address the unique circumstances of the most affected New Yorkers in the early days of the pandemic before COVID testing became widely available,” Schumer told POLITICO in a communiqué. “I am committed to finding a compassionate and equitable solution here, so that the people who need help the most can get the relief they need.”
One senior administration official who spoke with POLITICO said Capitol Hill Democrats originally pressured FEMA to accept death certificates listing the most Covid-19-associated symptoms, such as pneumonia. FEMA quickly rejected that request, the official said, because these symptoms could also be associated with a multitude of other viruses and diseases beyond Covid-19.
FEMA is also considering allowing people whose loved ones died in the spring of 2020, but who do not include Covid-19 in death certificates, to present a certified letter from the original doctor or coroner explaining how it went. die the person. FEMA has accepted similar letters in the past, including statements after Hurricane Katrina confirming that an individual’s death was related to the storm.