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Fact-check: Video claiming to show Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez telling people to alter death certificates is misleading

A clip of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking about FEMA funds for COVID-19 victims’ funeral expenses has gone viral, but it’s been edited and taken out of context.
Credit: JohnKwan - stock.adobe.com

A clip of New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking about COVID-19 deaths has been viewed thousands of times on video-hosting platform Bitchute, TikTok and Twitter, with an emphasis on a portion of the video when Ocasio-Cortez tells families they need to have COVID-19 listed as a cause of death on a death certificate.

Ocasio-Cortez, along with Senator Chuck Schumer, spoke on April 12 from the Queens borough of New York about families being eligible for funeral expenses if someone died from COVID-19. The funds have been made possible through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Clips that have gone viral on social media in recent weeks suggest Ocasio-Cortez was telling New York families to fraudulently alter a death certificate, which would inflate the COVID-19 death rate.

THE QUESTION

Does this video show Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asking for individuals to alter death certificates to inflate the fatality rate of COVID-19 patients?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is misleading.

The video clip was edited. It was taken from a longer press conference, in which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can be heard describing what families of COVID-19 victims can do to be eligible for FEMA funding to help with funeral expenses.

WHAT WE FOUND

The full April 12 press conference from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Chuck Schumer was posted to the @ABCPolitics Twitter account. The purpose of the press conference was to announce to the public that in order to receive funding from FEMA for funeral expenses, the death certificate must have COVID-19 listed as a contributing cause of death.

The edited footage starts about 44 seconds into Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, where she says she and Schumer had been working with FEMA for flexibility in accepting altered documents. She said the reason for the ask is because at the time when someone may have died from the coronavirus, some institutions “did not know what we know now.” 

At no time do they tell the public to ask for alterations to the death certificate for people who did not die of COVID-19.

According to the FEMA website, the agency began providing funds for COVID-19-related funeral expenses for deaths after Jan. 20, 2020. 

On June 29, 2021, FEMA amended the funeral assistance policy to “allow applicants to submit a signed statement from the certifying official on the death certificate or the local medical examiner, or coroner, that attributes the death to COVID-19 deaths that occurred between Jan. 20 and May 16, 2020.”

For deaths between Jan. 20 and May 16, “any death certificate that does not attribute the cause of death to COVID-19 must be accompanied by a signed statement listing COVID-19 as a cause or contributing cause of death.”

The FEMA website states:

  • The signed statement must be provided by the original certifier of the death certificate or the local medical examiner or coroner from the jurisdiction in which the death occurred.
  • The statement must provide an additional explanation, or causal pathway, linking the cause of death listed on the death certificate to COVID-19.

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