Ocasio-Cortez has yet to introduce a contrary bill aimed at lead sponsor Lauren Boebert called the Stop LOB Act.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has a financial assistance program to help pay for funerals of people who died from the COVID-19 pandemic. The government will contribute up to $9,000, and there is no requirement that the deceased person be a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
As of November 1, the program has disbursed more than $1.2 billion. At that point, about 196,000 people had received money, or about 26 percent of the 735,646 who had died by that date.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, commonly referred to by her initials “AOC,” was one of the most public advocates of launching a funeral assistance program. Congress passed the $2 billion program in December 2020.
What the bill does
The Stop AOC Act would cease public funding for COVID-19 funerals. The acronym stands for “Stop Appropriating for Obsequy Costs,” obsequybeing a synonym for funeral.
It was introduced in the House on October 28 as H.R. 5765, by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO3).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the program spends too much money, including on many who shouldn’t receive it.
“AOC’s new government welfare program is cradle to grave — literally,” Rep. Boebert said in a press release. “Never mind that the average cost of a funeral is $3,000-$7,000, AOC’s FEMA program will give you $9,000.” (According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral in 2021 is actually $7,848 — higher than the range Boebert cites, though still below the maximum that FEMA is willing to contribute.)
“There has been little to no auditing of this colossal waste of money, and the program is ripe for abuse and fraud — even allowing illegal immigrant families to receive taxpayer money,” Rep. Boebert continued. (It’s true that the funds can go towards the funerals of undocumented immigrants, but that’s not “fraud” because it’s a legal component of the program, whether you agree with it or not.)
“This is just another blue state bailout,” Rep. Boebert added, “and coastal blue states like Maryland, New York, D.C., and California get almost 70 percent more money per COVID death on average than rural states like Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico.” [While those first four locations she mentioned indeed all received larger average amounts per funeral than the latter four locations, that’s cherry picking. Among all 50 states plus D.C., the top seven by amount awarded per funeral are all red states: North Dakota ($7,422), South Dakota ($7,324), Iowa ($7,201), Kentucky ($7,171), Nebraska ($7,069), Utah ($7,009), and Indiana ($6,985).]
What opponents say
Opponents counter that during one of the worst crises this country has ever faced, such a financial assistance program is a reasonable measure given the mass trauma.
“I lost my dad when I was about 18 years old. And the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family, along with many other families in a similar position, for years,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said in a press conference. “When you suddenly lose a loved one, you’re talking about an expense of four, five, seven, ten thousand dollars. And then, during COVID, with overrun funeral facilities, families also are having to deal with having to pay for the storage of the bodies of their own loved ones. This is wrong.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted seven cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.