Beshear signs flood relief bill, providing short-term aid for eastern Kentucky
Gov. Andy Beshear has signed a flood relief package into law, providing about $213 million for eastern Kentucky communities still recovering after the disaster.
The Democratic governor and the GOP-led legislature promised that the measure amounted to a temporary solution, and that more aid would be needed by the time the legislature returns for its regular session in January.
Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville and sponsor of the bill, said it would help get the recovery process started.
“We’ve been through a devastating time over the past four weeks. We are a strong, proud, resilient people, we will get through this. But we need a little nudge along the way, and this is that nudge,” Blanton said.
The measure passed unanimously out of the legislature with the exception of one “no” vote from Union Republican Sen. John Schickel, who said he took issue with the speed that the bill passed.
The $212.7 million bill includes:
- $115 million for local governments, utilities and nonprofits rebuilding vital services and infrastructure after the disaster
- $45 million for road and highway repairs
- $40 million for school repairs and wraparound services like after school programs and transportation assistance.
- $12.7 million for water system fixes
Lawmakers expressed hopes that the package wouldn’t be the last for the region, especially as people continue to languish in temporary housing situations after the flood.
Whitesburg Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton said lawmakers have the opportunity to turn the disaster into a “catalyst for real change.”
“Whenever possible we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But our bootstraps just washed down the creek. Can’t even find them right now,” Hatton said.
Hazard Republican Sen. Brandon Smith proposed an amendment to the bill, attempting to add $50 million for housing. The measure failed to make the final cut, but GOP Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester, said that the legislature would eventually take up more permanent solutions.
“The bill we passed today takes a very substantial first step in rebuilding eastern Kentucky,” Stivers said during a news conference after the bill passed.
Blanton said the bill is focused on “immediate needs.”
“And that is [to]get people out of tents, get them out of shelters, get a roof over their head before cold weather gets here,” Blanton said.
The relief package was largely paid for by the state’s budget reserve trust fund, sometimes called the “rainy day fund,” which has ballooned to a healthy $2.7 billion in recent years. $12.7 million will come from coronavirus relief money.
Several lawmakers criticized FEMA’s response to the disaster after widespread reports of denials, confusing application requests and lackluster benefits.
Hatton called for lawmakers in Washington to reform the federal agency.
“Everybody has to appeal, you have to jump through hoops. They don’t have a place to live, they don’t have driver’s licenses, they can’t find their deeds and they’re insulted. They’re hurting, and it makes it worse,” Hatton said.
The legislature will reconvene for its regular session on Jan. 3, 2023.