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FEMA’s financial assistance program for pandemic-related funeral expenses rolled out this week and—according to a new report—the associated hotline was hit with more than a million calls at launch.
Applications for the program opened on Monday, with those interested in participating being told to contact the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number. Per a CBS News report, published Wednesday evening, the program was overwhelmed with more than 1 million calls on April 12.
“We are experiencing high call volume on the Funeral Assistance phone line, which is causing some technical issues,” FEMA said in an update to the program’s official explainer page. “Please try again later if you get a busy signal or your call doesn’t connect. There is no deadline to apply.”
While many would assume that an online application would have been a focus for the program, Acting FEMA Director Bob Fenton explained on Wednesday that the agency’s instead went the hotline route due to the “sensitive nature” of the process.
To be eligible for COVID-19 funeral assistance from FEMA, a death must have occurred in the U.S. (or U.S. territories and the District of Columbia). Furthermore, the associated death certificate must have indicated the death was due to COVID-19. An applicant, meanwhile, must have incurred funeral-related expenses after Jan. 20 of 2020.
“At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters,” Fenton said earlier this year when first announcing the program. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate.”
With the pandemic era now more than a year deep, the current focus is on getting everyone vaccinated, all while battling against erosive anti-vaxxer misinformation. If you haven’t already done so, click here to find a vaccine near you.