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Resources: Funeral assistance sadly necessary

Perhaps the most unsettling recent reminder of the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic came Monday when the Federal Emergency Management Agency unveiled its new funeral assistance program hotline. More than 1 million callers tried to get through, creating busy signals and “technical issues” as droves of desperate families reached out. The bulk of those call attempts came during the first 90 minutes after the line opened.

FEMA officials are to be commended for offering the chance for families to apply for up to $9,000 in assistance per burial of those who died of the virus. Clearly, however, they had no idea of the scope of the problem they were attempting to address.

Even families who followed all the rules, and avoided visitations or graveside services, are still facing thousands of dollars in funeral expenses. More than 565,000 people have died of the virus to date, meaning many of those 1 million calls were likely from the same families reaching out multiple times. In the end, once technical issues were resolved and callers were able to get through, there were “60,000 calls, 58,000 registrations, 1,700 have already come back with documentation. Hopefully we’ll start funding that next week,” according to FEMA acting Administrator Robert Fenton.

In terms of national disasters, Fenton said the pandemic had “the biggest impact I’ve ever seen,” and the most deaths.

“What it’s done to our country. Shut down our economy. The impact it’s had. Far beyond physical damage that we traditionally see in other disasters. It’s just been far greater than any other disaster I’ve been to … I would put that up there with 9/11 and Katrina,” he told CNN.

There are many challenges to face as this monster affects every part of our lives. Assuming the problems of that first day have been resolved, FEMA still has a tall task on its hands. But it is encouraging to know there is another resource to help relieve the financial burden on families who loved ones were taken too soon.

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