U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NOrthwestern Queens, Bronx) demanded, today, that the federal government via the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) use its authority to immediately grant approval for ‘Disaster Funeral Assistance’ across New York.
The federal lawmakers noted that New York, and in particular, the Congresswoman’s district in both Queens and the Bronx, has been the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and that too many families, many in lower-income communities and communities of color, who have already paid the ultimate price, are faced with a crushing additional burden: expensive funeral and burial costs.
“Families across New York, and right here in Queens, are already paying the ultimate price with the tragic loss of their loved ones to the coronavirus,” said Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez. “That is why FEMA must do the right thing during this crisis, exactly what they did after Hurricane Sandy, and deliver special funds to New York families faced with mounting funeral and burial costs they simply cannot afford.”
With New York City coronavirus cases at more than 100,000 and climbing, and 10,000 deaths, Schumer and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez explained that following pressure from the federal delegation, President Trump approved a “Major Disaster Declaration” on March 20.
They said now FEMA must approve special funeral assistance, which is currently under review. Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez made the case for the urgent need, and for why a swift approval is so critical to struggling families in crisis.
The demand comes as the neighborhood of Corona has the highest number of positive COVID-19 tests of any zip code in the country. Of all the zip codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, half of the top ten reside in Ocasio-Cortez’ district.
Latinx people also comprise 34 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths in New York City, the largest share for any racial or ethnic group. Bronx residents are twice as likely to die from the virus as other New York City residents.
The demand also comes as City Councilmember Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) called for an emergency city funding for final arrangements for all New Yorkers including undocumented immigrants.
The HRA program that the City currently has to help pay for death arrangements is not sufficient. To be eligible, both the deceased and the person applying must provide a social security number.
“Nobody is immune to this disease but low-income New Yorkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, are the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected. One of the most devastating calls I’m regularly getting is from people who can’t afford to bury their loved ones and aren’t eligible for any assistance. That’s simply not acceptable —not when our mantra from the start has been ‘We’re all in this together.’ We must create an emergency fund to help all low-income New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status, put their loved ones to rest,” said Moya.
At post time it remains unclear if the funds Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez are demanding will include money to bury undocumented immigrants or where the head of the household buring the dead are an undocumented immigrant.
Schumer’s and Ocasio-Cortez’s letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gayno will also be signed by Senator Gillibrand, Reps Serrano, Nadler, Meng, Espaillat, Maloney, Velázquez, King and Suozzi.