By Jim Williams

CHICAGO (CBS) — Beginning Monday FEMA is offering to help cover funeral costs for victims of COVID-19. It’s money some families desperately need.

April Bates and Lynnette Autman speak for all families who have lost love ones to COVID-19.

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“Our families didn’t expect this to happen and for it to happen to many people, it’s a really great loss for all of us,” said Bates.

And for many families, the emotional devastation is followed by a financial burden: the enormous expense of funerals.

When Bates and Autman’s mother, Ada Mae Bates, died last May family members pooled their money to cover the costs.

“It wasn’t like we expected it,” said Autman.

The two say they did not have money sitting aside for that purpose.

“We had to throw all of our personal business that we usually take care of, throw all that away and just take care of mom and the funeral expenses,” said Bates.

Now FEMA is offering up to $9,000 to pay for the funerals of Americans who have died of COVID. The death had to happen in the United States or U.S. territories after Jan. 20, 2020, and the death certificate has to list COVID or coronavirus symptoms as the cause of death.

Hazel Crest funeral home director Stacey Woodruff said he has buried nearly 150 people who died of COVID-19. In that stunning number, 15% of his families struggled to pay the funeral bills, though Catholic Charities did help. 

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“I think it’s a good program for them to get reimbursed,” said Woodruff.

A year ago, Nikki Collins Moore’s daughter Nyla died of COVID-19.

“Still day by day. It’s still a challenge,” she said.

Insurance covered her funeral, but Moore has empathy for those don’t have money to bury their loved ones amid heartbreaking decisions.

“Even though we were covered, it was still so hard to go and pick out a casket to pick up her final outfit, to make sure her hair was the way she always wore it. It was a lot, it was a lot to think about it,” she said.

Monday Bates and Autman started the process to get federal funds for their mother’s funeral.

“It does take time but be patient and you will be able to get the call,” Bates said.

FEMA’s assistance will be reduced if the families received money from funeral or burial insurance. 

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