Workers bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island on April 9th. JOHN MINCHILLO/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim New York City residents, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Queens Councilmember Francisco Moya are calling for emergency funds for burial assistance for undocumented immigrants and low-income New Yorkers.
Currently, qualifying low-income residents are eligible for $900 in reimbursement funds through the Human Resources Administration for burial or cremation expenses. But to qualify right now, the deceased and next-of-kin applying must have a social security number, making undocumented immigrants ineligible, according to Johnson. Johnson and Moya look to undo that while also earmarking additional funding for government-assisted burials.
“This is a real problem. It breaks my heart that we have to be searching for ways to help people to bury their loved ones in a dignified manner,” Moya told Gothamist. “If you’re poor or out of work and you can’t even pay your rent right now, how are you going to be able to afford the cost of burying a loved one?”

Moya said he has received calls from constituents, funeral homes, the consul general of Ecuador, and others about costs to bury loved ones or return the body to their home countries. In one instance, a child lost their mother to the coronavirus and their father remains on a ventilator, but the family had no way to pay for the final resting arrangements costs.
“It just really hits very hard to know that there is a child going to be orphaned by this and there is no way to bury or say goodbye to loved ones,” said Moya, who got an outpouring of support for the family after the child’s story was published in the Financial Times.
“So much about this virus is unfair, including its disproportionate impact on black and brown New Yorkers,” Johnson said in a statement. “We must create an emergency relief fund for final resting arrangements for all New Yorkers.”
According to data released by the city, 34% of coronavirus deaths have been among Hispanic people, though they make up 29% of the population. Black New Yorkers accounted for 28% of deaths, though they make up 22% of the population.
Moya noted that more than 1,700 people have died in his district in Queens—covering Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and LeFrak City, considered the epicenter of the outbreak in the city. Queens has the highest number of confirmed cases among the boroughs, at more than 30,000.
“The borough of Queens, the statistics are just—it’s shocking,” he said. “If Queens was its own state, we would be third in the country behind New York and New Jersey as having the most number of COVID-19 cases.”
How much money would be allocated for the emergency fund is still being determined, according to Moya. Whether it would be funded through the City Council, a public-private partnership, or other ways are still being explored as well.
“This is uncharted territory for the city and so many different facets of what’s happening here,” Moya said. “The one thing that we need to do and we cannot fail is by providing New Yorkers, regardless of your immigration status, regardless of your socioeconomic status, a dignified way of saying goodbye to their loved ones.”
In New York City, COVID-19 has killed 7,349 as of Monday.
Several elected officials suspect the number is undercounted due to a rise in at-home deaths for which a cause of death remains unclear. After Gothamist/WNYC revealed the surge in at-home deaths, the city’s Health Department said it would begin counting those deaths in which COVID-19 was a probable cause.
At Hart Island, where the city buries those whose loved ones could not afford to bury them or who are unclaimed, temporary, mass burials have increased fivefold.
“When you look at those images of mass graves on Hart Island, it’s the images that you see in war-torn countries, not New York City in 2020,” Moya said. continue reading.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply