FEMA flooded with 1M calls when applications opened for COVID funeral assistance, causing technical issues

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In this July 21, 2020, file photo, pall bearers carry a casket with the body of Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, after a funeral service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

In this July 21, 2020, file photo, pall bearers carry a casket with the body of Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, after a funeral service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

On the first day FEMA began accepting applications to help cover funeral expenses of those who died of COVID-19, the agency was flooded with more 1 million calls for help, officials said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened applications for funeral assistance on Monday. By Wednesday, the agency had received 56,000 funeral assistance applications, FEMA said in a news release.

The deluge of calls for help caused technical issues at the agency.

“Some applicants reached operators, while others received a busy signal. We ask that applicants be patient as we work to correct these issues and have all their important documents ready when they call to apply,” officials said.

FEMA is providing financial assistance for COVID-19-related funeral expenses that occurred after Jan. 20, 2020 in the United States. This assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral, and up to $35,500 per application.

It’s meant to “help ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the pandemic,” FEMA said in announcing the assistance earlier this year.

More than 562,296 people have died of COVID-19 across the United States. Californians accounted for nearly 60,000 of those deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And amid a pandemic that claimed lives as it left many unemployed and shuttered business, many families were struggling to cover the costs needed to lay their loved ones to rest.

Since the start of the pandemic, online fundraising pages like GoFundMe have been flooded with people announcing the deaths of family members and asking for help covering funeral expenses, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Those who still need help can can call FEMA at 844-684-6333 or 800-462-7585 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“Please know there is no deadline to apply and applicants will have the ability to open a case,” FEMA officials said. “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.”

Those interested in applying will need the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S.
  • Funeral expense documents like receipts or funeral home contracts
  • Proof of funds received from other sources for use toward funeral costs.

More information on the assistance and required documents can be found online.

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