CALEXICO — The Calexico City Council unanimously approved a letter of support for California Assembly Bill (AB) 868 at its regular meeting Wednesday, April 21.
AB 868 was introduced by assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Wendy Carrillo to authorize Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency, requiring the State Department of Social Services to provide funeral expense assistance for those who died due to COVID-19 on or after March 4, 2020.
The Assembly Committee on Human Services granted its stamp of approval for AB 868 Wednesday, April 21. The Assembly Bill Policy Committee Analysis concluded, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial was $7,640 for 2019, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and if a vault is included — something that is typically required by a cemetery — the median cost was $9,135. For many individuals, especially low-income individuals and those facing unemployment due to the economic crisis caused by COVID, the costs for funeral expenses for a deceased loved one may be exorbitant and cause financial stress.
“This public health emergency has disproportionately impacted our most underserved areas, leaving those with the least amount of resources to bear the harshest financial and death tolls. We must do more to support grieving California families, struggling to make ends meet, and unable to come up with the money to cover funeral expenses,” said Garcia.
The funeral assistance fund would reimburse low-income families for funeral expenses when the cause of death is directly related to a governor-declared state of emergency and retroactively provide monetary assistance for COVID-19 related deaths. According to a press release from Assemblymember Garcia’s office, the program would extend relief to Californians regardless of documentation status, including vulnerable, heavily impacted populations left out of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) COVID-19 funeral assistance.
Those who do not qualify for FEMA’s funeral assistance program include temporary tourist visa holders, foreign students, temporary work visa holders, and habitual residents such as citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
“We cannot allow Californians to become buried in debt because their loved one’s life was cut short by this devastating pandemic. A California Emergency Funeral Expenses Fund is needed to ensure the equitable distribution of aid to our most underserved, hardest-hit areas and to provide relief to those left out of the federal assistance program,” he said.
The funds for the program would be distributed equitably throughout underserved regions of the State based on the percentage of low-income individuals.
AB 868 would require Social Services to award $5,000 or the amount of the eligible funeral home contract costs for the decedent, whichever is less, for each decedent.
Garcia’s AB 868 will next go before the Assembly Business and Professions Tuesday, April 27, where a majority vote is required.