Staten Island family denied help from FEMA for funeral expenses turns to 7 On Your Side

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Saturday, January 27, 2024
7 On Your Side: COVID-19 funeral assistance
Nina Pineda has more on how the federal government will help with funeral expenses for victims of COVID-19.

STATEN ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- Many people aren't aware that the federal government will help cover funeral expenses for victims of COVID, but a family from Staten Island who lost their patriarch during the pandemic spent the last two years trying to qualify for the compensation.

The family turned to 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda to help them get assistance from FEMA for funeral expenses.

"The shock isn't the word because it was a normal day, January," widow Debbie Saraceno said.

January 26, 2022, would go from normal to the worst day of the Saraceno family's lives.

"I got the call, it was her oldest daughter, 'hurry up, get to mommy's, daddy can't breathe,'" Anthony's sister Vicky Saraceno said.

But her brother, Debbie's husband of 43 years and father of three and grandfather to six grandchildren, would never wake up. It was their funeral director who told the widow FEMA would help with burial expenses.

"You're entitled to money back because Anthony passed from COVID," Debbie Saraceno said.

She applied for the COVID-19 funeral assistance, but was denied.

"We have done everything that they've asked for. They've asked for copies of the death certificate, a license of birth certificate," she said.

Since the funeral was paid through her husband's life insurance, and the kids were beneficiaries, they had to reapply under her daughter's name.

Debbie Saraceno submitted the appeal where she requested to change the co-applicant, but it was still denied. She was ready to give up.

"Forget it I don't even want to do this anymore because it's too frustrating," she said.

But she knew throwing in the towel was something her husband would never do.

"Every time that I watched the news I hear them say 'Nina Pineda, 7 On Your Side','" she said.

We contacted FEMA on her behalf and the external affairs director for Region 2 spoke to the family personally, putting all the pieces of their claim together.

Donald Caetano said, "We appreciate you came to us and gave us a chance to work through what was holding up the process. Luckily, we were able to get across the finish line and get this family all the monies they were eligible to receive," said Donald Caetano, External Affairs Director for FEMA Region 2.

"Oh my god! What took me two years took you a week," Debbie Saraceno said.

The family's benefit was funded in full -- $9,000. Just in time to welcome their seventh grandchild with a grandiose shower, celebrating new life and the legacy of love which lives on.

"Daddy's not here but daddy sent something to make my daughter's shower. You know your stuff. Everybody call Nina Pineda's to 7 On Your Side," Debbie Saraceno said.

It's just a bit of solace on the anniversary of her husband's death.

To apply for the benefit, you have to first call FEMA if your loved one died after or on January 20, 2020.

The assistance program has been extended to help families until September 30 of 2025.



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