By Brian Skinner, Esq.
Many West Virginia families face difficult choices due to the health and economic pressures created by the pandemic. The isolation, loss of employment and impact to everyday activities has been overwhelming for many, and for families who have suffered the death of a family member during this pandemic, the impact is even greater.
At least in one community in Arizona has tried to help families in that state by implementing a program to reimburse the funeral expenses of a loved one who died during coronavirus pandemic.
Under a new program unanimously approved by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Arizona’s largest county, residents can apply for up to $1,200 toward funeral expenses if they've lost a loved one and also suffered financial losses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The funeral assistance program, a partnership between the county and the Valley of the Sun United Way, provides grants of up to $1,200 to help pay for burial or cremation costs at participating licensed funeral homes. The money can be used for “logistics and paperwork, transportation, licenses and fees and death certificates,” among other expenses, according to the program’s website. The cause of death does not have to be Covid-19.
Applicants must provide proof that either they or the deceased are a county resident, along with proof of financial hardship as a result of the pandemic (for example, pay stubs that indicate a change in income or reduced working hours). If approved, "the family or personal representative for the deceased will be responsible for any costs above and beyond the $1,200," according to the program's website. The average cost of a funeral in Arizona is around $7,500.
Like Arizona, the pandemic has had a significant impact on families in West Virginia. The pandemic has not only resulted in a large number of West Virginians being unemployed -- the unemployment rate peaked in April 2020 at 15.9%, -- but as of today, 396 West Virginians have died from Covid-19.
A program to provide accessible and respectful funeral assistance to struggling families during their most vulnerable time should be considered for families in the Mountain State. The state could look to funds provided by the federal government by the CARES Act to pay for the grants. Such a program would allow families to say goodbye to a loved one with dignity while not adding to their financial and emotional stress.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.