FEMA’s funeral program overwhelmed by 1 million calls on first day

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(NEXSTAR) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency was inundated with calls after opening the hotline to its COVID-19-related funeral assistance program.

FEMA said in a news release that the more than 1 million calls were too much for the agency’s call centers and caused technical issues Monday. The flood of calls came in within the first 90 minutes that the hotline was open, CNN reports.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 14: Robert Fenton Jr., Senior Official Performing the Duties of FEMA Administrator, testifies at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on FEMA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

While some callers managed to reach an operator, a busy signal stymied others.

FEMA asked for patience Wednesday, saying that there is no deadline to apply and reassuring those who lost loved ones to the pandemic that they will be able to open a case.

“We will not rush through calls because we intend to make sure that every applicant gets their questions answered and receives the help they need to apply,” FEMA said in the release.

While speaking during a Senate subcommittee on FEMA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, acting Administrator Robert Fenton told legislators that despite the first day hurdles, the hotline was working smoothly by the second day. The program’s website still had this message as of Thursday:

“We are experiencing high call volume on the Funeral Assistance phone line, which is causing some technical issues. Please try again later if you get a busy signal or your call doesn’t connect. There is no deadline to apply.”

How FEMA’s funeral assistance program works

According to FEMA’s website, $2 billion was provided to FEMA through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Act of 2021 to reimburse individuals and households for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January, 2020.

FEMA says assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application per state, territory, or the District of Columbia.  

Those who qualify, can complete an application by calling FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number at 844-684-6333  (TTY: 800-462-7585). No online applications are being accepted.

According to FEMA’s website, expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased individual
  • Transfer of remains
  • Casket or urn
  • Burial plot or cremation niche
  • Marker or headstone
  • Clergy or officiant services
  • Arrangement of the funeral ceremony
  • Use of funeral home equipment or staff
  • Cremation or interment costs
  • Costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates
  • Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances

Depending on which option you chose when applying, funds will be directly deposited or a check will be sent through thre mail.

FEMA has received reports of scammers reaching out to people to register them for funeral assistance. The agency says it does not contact people prior to them registering.

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