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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged the federal government on Tuesday to provide additional funds to New York families to cover funeral expenses as the death toll continues to climb from coronavirus.
“It’s bad enough people are losing their jobs, and don’t have food to eat, are separated from their families and loved ones,” Schumer said. “But to not be able to give a decent funeral and burial to someone who is near and dear to you is outrageous.”
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The two Democratic lawmakers from New Yorkers appeared at a press conference outside Elmhurst Hospital in the ironically named Queens neighborhood of Corona, which has had the greatest number of positive COVID-19 cases in the state.
Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez pushed for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to grant the state access to the relief under the Disaster Funeral Assistance program, which the organization ordered in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Ocasio-Cortez — who represents the 14th congressional district in New York where the hardest-hit parts of Queens are located — estimated that costs associated with funerals can be upwards of $11,000 in a state ravished by the virus.
“Disaster Funeral Assistance would help individuals and households cover unexpected and uninsured expenses associated with the death of an immediate family member. These expenses include: cost of the casket, mortuary services, death certificates, and cremation or interment,” the lawmakers added in a letter to FEMA.
The aid being requested is for Individual Assistance for New Yorkers, which is in addition to that provided after President Trump signed the nation’s first Major Disaster Declaration on March 30.
Special funeral assistance is currently under review by FEMA, but Schumer told reporters that if it is not passed soon, he will attempt to fold it into another congressional coronavirus relief package that is also in the works.
The urgency of additional aid comes as the situation in New York — the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak — remains dire.
National Guard teams have removed upwards of 150 bodies from across New York City every day – six times the average number nationally — and hospitals have been forced to utilize refrigerated trucks to store bodies as medical facilities overflow with hospitalized patients.
Funeral homes across the state are stretched to capacity as the body count mounted to 10,834 on Tuesday, and relatives and loved ones are forced to forgo formal funeral ceremonies due to social distancing rules and health and safety precautions.
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Currently, there are 202,630 cases of coronavirus in New York, the highest in the country.