EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The El Paso County Commissioners Court on Monday approved funds to assist families with funeral expenses incurred by the pandemic.
In a unanimous vote during their Monday meeting, the commissioners approved using $660,000 in federal dollars to provide up to $2,000 per applicant for families needing assistance for funeral expenses. The funds are to help residents in need who have lost family to COVID-19.
“We have seen the requests for funeral (assistance) through our office decline in January,” said Irene Valenzuela, the county’s executive director of Community Services. “We saw a huge surge in December. That was difficult for families and for us to see that.”
The county expects to be able to provide assistance to 66 applicants each month. The funding is set to last until June.
Last year, the county was able to help 224 households with their funeral expenses. The county was able to allocate $400,000 in CARES Act funds to the Community Services department.
Valenzuela said the county saw a spike in applications in December, when the area saw the biggest spike in hospitalizations and infections. The county helped with 148 applications that month, she added. In January alone, the Community Services department processed 41 funerals and projected to deplete its fiscal year 2021 funds before the end of January.
“We saw a surge from the holidays that took a little while but we’re seeing a surge where there’s 18-deaths, 13 deaths coming in during the day,” Christopher Lujan, a location manager for Sunset Funeral Homes, said.
Lujan said Sunset Funeral Homes was able to assist families with General Assistance funds from the County, but he said that money ran out despite the need. He said the County Commissioner’s approval would make that assistance available again.
“We’re family owned so we try to assist families as much as we can but when they get that assistance it helps them selecting more of the type of service they want to go for when celebrating their loved one,” Lujan said.
While there is optimism that the need will not be as high in 2021, Valenzuela said her department is ensuring families will be able to receive assistance. In 2020, the average cost for funeral arrangements ranged between $4,900 and $5,100.
She said the county wanted to help pay for at least half the bill for families in need.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego asked if the county is ensuring that funds are not being used for storage fees.
Valenzuela assured the county’s dollars were not and that funeral homes are providing discounts to families affected by the virus. Some funeral businesses reported $900 discounts on their services, she added.
Valenzuela also mentioned the additional assistance from local non-profit Operation Hope, which also provided funeral services for families of the August 3 mass shooting.
“To date, we have assisted over 975 families since March to now, so we also help with whatever little bit we can for each family,” Patsy Ojeda with Operation Hope said.
However, the services of the non-profit cover from donated funds which are also running low. Ojeda encourages the community can help by donating to their organization to continue providing assistance along with the County.