OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Over 570,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to the CDC. In an effort to provide financial aid to those who lost loved ones to the virus, the FEMA Funeral Assistance Program was launched on April 12. Within the first 90 minutes of the hotline going live, nearly one million calls came into the center.
News 4 reached out to FEMA to get an update on how that call center is doing and what people can expect if they reach out for services.
In reference to the overwhelming number of calls, a FEMA spokesperson said they are working to manage those calls and have increased their call center capabilities. FEMA has 5,000 agents and augmented with other federal government staff to assist with the large call volume.
News 4 asked why it was a call center that was set up to begin with, instead of having an online option available.
The FEMA spokesperson said they decided to take applications via the phone for a number of reasons, one of them being that it was the fastest way to launch the program, given their existing systems. The spokesperson continued, saying that developing a new online application would have delayed the program for several months, while using the call center allowed them to use trained operators to gather the specific information they need for the new program.
Because of the high number of calls coming in, FEMA has asked for those waiting to continue to be patient, as the operators are not rushing the emotional calls of those who are dealing with grief. FEMA’s spokesperson telling News 4, “please be patient and try again later if you get a busy signal or your call doesn’t connect. There is no deadline to apply.”
Those interested can apply by calling 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT, Monday through Friday. FEMA’s spokesperson said it should take 20 minutes to apply. The operators will not rush calls, as they want to ensure every applicant gets their questions answered and help that they need. Multilingual services are also available. So far the assistance line has helped applicants in nearly 40 languages.
FEMA’s spokesperson said it it important to note that each application is processed manually and is handled on a case-by-case basis at registration. When someone calls in, they are given a unique application number. That number must be included with any documentation submitted to FEMA. FEMA will send a letter with information about COVID-19 Funeral Assistance and the documentation that must be submitted within three to five business days of completing the application.
As of 8 a.m. Friday, April 30, FEMA has received more than 154,500 Funeral Assistance applications.
FEMA has awarded more than $1.2 million since the program launched on April 12.
FEMA can award up to $9,000 per funeral, with a maximum of $35,500 per application to families who lost numerous loved ones. The average amount of Funeral Assistance per application is $7,423.
FEMA told News 4 that pre-planned funerals do not qualify for the assistance. “This includes burial or funeral insurance, a pre-paid funeral contract, a pre-paid trust for funeral expenses, or an irrevocable trust for Medicaid,” said FEMA’s spokesperson.
FEMA also warns of fraud now being circulated, as scammers have begun reaching out to people offering to register them for Funeral Assistance.
FEMA will not contact anyone until the person has called FEMA or has already applied for assistance. If you are unsure if the FEMA call is legitimate, hand up and report the call to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the National Center for Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.