By Brian New

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – The federal government is offering up to $9,000 to reimburse the funeral expenses of those who died in the past year from COVID-19.

To qualify the funeral must have taken place after January 20, 2020, the death must occur in the U.S., and the death certificate needs to state the death was “likely the result of COVID-19” or COVID-19 symptoms.

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Due to the sensitive nature of the program, FEMA is only accepting applications by phone – not online.

The FEMA funeral assistance hotline is 844-684-6333 or 800-462-7585.

Shortly after the program launched this month, FEMA was flooded with calls and many were unable to get through.

Government officials say the best times to call to avoid a busy signal are in the afternoon and evening. The hours are operation are from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Central Time.

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Melanie Roach, the manager at Bluebonnet Hills Funeral Home in Colleyville, said for many of the families they’ve helped this past year, this program will help ease the financial burden of an unexpected death.

“It’s been very tough on people,” Roach said. “Some people have lost both their parents. Some people have lost multiple people in their families. And it’s not only the burden of actual loss but the financial aspects on top of this can be extremely hard.”

Funeral homes cannot apply on behalf of families but can help with providing the needed documentation and guidance.

In the latest COVID-19 relief package, Congress approved $2 billion for funeral assistance. If needed, additional funds will likely to be added.

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As of now, no deadline has been set on when applications need to be submitted.