The Maricopa County Funeral Assistance provides financial assistance to grieving families in Maricopa County who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and have recently lost a loved one. Through the program, clients may qualify for up to $1,200 to be applied to burial or cremation services at a participating licensed funeral home in Maricopa County.
Problem or Need for the Program
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous financial strain on individuals and families throughout Maricopa County. Low-income and economically disadvantaged families that are coping with the death of a loved one are facing additional economic hardship by having to cover the cost of burial or cremation services. Other issues affecting family finances as a result of the pandemic, such as unemployment, work furloughs, pay cuts, and increased childcare, transportation and other costs have placed an even heavier financial burden on this population. Although costs for burials and cremations can vary widely, Maricopa County determined that standard burials and cremations cost approximately $1,200 per decedent. In light of the unprecedented socio-economic conditions brought on by the COVID-19, Maricopa County prioritized the funding of a program where qualified applicants could receive up to $1,200 for eligible costs associated with burial or cremation for County residents at licensed facilities within the County’s jurisdiction. The funding is a way for Maricopa County to help provide economic relief to grieving families who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and to offer a surviving family/kin the means to honor the decedent with a dignified cremation or burial service.
The program also supports participating burial and creation service providers that were faced with managing a surge in demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Funeral Assistance Program provided participating service providers a guaranteed payment of up to $1,200 per approved applicant to be used to cover the cost of burial or cremation services
Description of the Program
The Maricopa County Funeral Assistance Program (MCFAP), offered through the Maricopa County Human Services Department, was financed by using federal CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA - State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds) funding. The program was established as a way for qualified applicants within Maricopa County to seek financial assistance for burial or cremation services by licensed providers within the county on behalf of a decedent. To maximize the available funding to provide assistance to as many low-income applicants as possible the program was established with the objective to provide a reasonable level of financial assistance commensurate with local costs for a dignified cremation or burial service by a licensed provider within the jurisdiction. To ensure that the financial assistance was provided to people who were most in need, Maricopa County established a maximum income of 300% of the Federal Poverty Level. Additionally, applicants would automatically qualify if they could demonstrate that they were currently qualified or receiving other federal/state assistance such as Social Security Disability income, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC among others.
Maricopa County partnered with Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW), to administer the program, with County oversight. VSUW established an online portal that applicants would use to submit their request with supporting documentation, such as proof of residence in the County, burial or cremation costs, and proof of low-income/eligibility. The VSUW also established the agreements with the participating licensed service providers operating within Maricopa County
As part of the administration of this program, VSUM provided reports to the County to identify the number of persons served, the amounts paid, and demographics of applicant households. The County uses this information for federal ARPA reporting and program monitoring to determine trends in usage, costs of burials/cremations, and help ensure the program is reaching diverse populations and promoting equitable recovery from the effects of the pandemic- with a special focus on populations that have been traditionally underserved and/or disproportionately affected.
Responding to Economic Downturn
The COVID-19 pandemic caused numerous lockdowns and social distancing measures affecting businesses and organizations throughout the state of Arizona - including Maricopa County. In some cases, these measures caused a loss of employment or a decrease in wages while at the same time placing extra demands on households. For some, a loss of income also meant a loss of medical coverage at a time when illness was pervasive. The pandemic claimed the lives of many Maricopa County residents and required many residents to seek medical care. According to the Maricopa County Public Health Department, as of March 19, 2022:
- 1,253,597 cases of COVID-19 have been reported within Maricopa County
- 67,261 people have been hospitalized for concerns related to COVID-19
- 16,521 deaths within the county have been attributed to COVID-19.
Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
the Maricopa County Funeral Assistance Program was established to ensure that the county residents who are most in need and facing the largest economic hurdles due to limited or no income have the means to provide a dignified and proper cremation or burial for loved ones lost during pandemic. By providing income and other qualifications on the program, the county was able to have a mechanism to verify and substantiate that the applicants were, in fact, the most in need. By facilitating access to these services, the county is promoting equity in recovery from the pandemic- with a special focus on populations that have been traditionally underserved. Further, the direct payment of the funds to the licensed provider helped to promote public health and ensured that the decedent’s services were provided most expeditiously, rather than being delayed due to financial hardship.
The Cost of the Program
From program implementation, August 2020, to the expected conclusion, June 2022, the program's total budget is $5,000,000, including payments provided on behalf of applicants to licensed service providers and costs associated with program administration. Counties seeking to replicate this program might consider variations in costs associated with the population, the decision to administer in-house versus through a vendor, the average cost of cremation and burial services in the area and other economic factors.
Results/Success of the Program
From July 1, 2021, through February 25, 2022, Maricopa County paid $598,233 to assist with 534 burials and cremations that otherwise would have gone through the County’s Indigent Decedent Services. Projections indicate that the remaining funds are expected to assist with an additional 192 burials/cremations by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2022, making the estimated total individuals/families served through the program 726.
Demographic information collected from program participates to date indicates the services are reaching diverse ethnic and racial groups in proportions similar to those seen across the County’s population. For example, as of March 2022, 62% of the approved applicants were White, 34% were Hispanic, and 22% were African American. However, more than 72% of the approved applicants were female indicating a higher awareness and utilization of the program by the female population.
Worthiness of Award
This program deserves the Achievement Award because of its uniqueness in offering new services to County residents who are in most financial need of essential services of burial or cremation for a loved one. The Funeral Assistance Program has applicability to many other counties with demonstrated results. Although funding for this program was primarily through flexible federal funding, other counties can administer this same type of program through a myriad of grants or local sources of funding. Similarly, Maricopa County, to its knowledge, is one of the few counties that attempted to implement a program such as this. This innovative program has had a threefold effect on the community that makes it worthy of this award:
- It funds a critical need within the community at a time when, unfortunately, deaths have surged and financial hardship has been pervasive brought on by effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With income qualification guidelines, the program is directed toward those in the community that have the greatest need because they face financial hardship. The grants provided to the service provider on behalf of the applicant are a mechanism for Maricopa County to facilitate equitable recovery from the effects of the pandemic, with a special focus on populations that have been traditionally underserved.
- The implementation of the program has averted an increased need of Maricopa County’s Indigent Burial Program and has promoted public health by offering a system for low-income individuals and families to work expeditiously to complete the burial or cremation service without any delays that may have been caused by a lack of payment for services.
- The program creates and strengthens critical partnerships in the community bey engaging a trusted non-profit organization to work directly with applicants and further facilitates a strong working relationship with the County’s licensed funeral and burial service providers – a critical resource to maintain public health and safety.
As a result of MCFAP, 534 decedents were provided a dignified burial or cremation without placing a financial burden on their grieving loved ones. The emotional and social well-being of the people affected by these 534 deaths is not as quantifiable, but is as equally important. The demonstrated results of this program discussed above show that this can have highly positive results.