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General Assembly unveils Eastern Kentucky flood relief package

From Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - Kentucky lawmakers unveiled a nearly $212 million relief package on Wednesday to aid communities in Eastern Kentucky still reeling from the devastating floods that claimed dozens of lives last month.

The proposed relief package is broken down as follows:
  • $115 million to the military affairs budget unit in the Division of Emergency Management,
  • $40 million to the operations and support services budget unit in the Department of Education,
  • $45 million to the highways budget unit in the Transportation Cabinet to repair roads and bridges,
  • and $12 million in ARPA funds to repair water and sewer infrastructure.
The House and Senate gaveled into the first day of what is expected to be a three-day special session focused on emergency funding and recovery efforts in at least 11 counties affected by the record flooding.

On July 28, 39 Kentuckians lost their lives following several days and one long night of heavy rainfall across the eastern portion of the commonwealth.

The relief package, known as House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, will appropriate $200 million from the budget reserve trust fund and more than $12 million from the American Rescue Plan Act funds to establish the East Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies fund, known as the EKSAFE fund.

The House and Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committees held a joint meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the relief package, which is the result of weeks of nonpartisan work between the legislative and executive branches.

HB 1 sponsor and Eastern Kentucky Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, told the committees unless you've seen the devastation firsthand, it is "worse than you imagined."

"You may see the pictures, yeah, but you don't get the smells," Blanton said. "You don't get the sounds. You don't get any of those things."

Both Blanton and SB 1 sponsor Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, described the need in Eastern Kentucky as substantial.

Stivers said it will take months to fully know the extent of the flood's damage.

"You go to Buckhorn School where they had six feet of water in it, you don't really know what the extent of damage is and the damage that isn't really known yet," Stivers said. "... There is a potential it could be saved or it may have to be totally torn down depending on mold, contagion from things that were in the water, structural damage underneath."

Blanton said city, county and urban governments; consolidated local governments, unified local governments, charter county governments, nonprofit or public utility service providers, state agencies and school districts are eligible to use EKSAFE funds.

The fund will not cover any new construction inside the 100-year floodplain, according to the bill.

The bill will also give the school districts in the impacted counties flexibility in student attendance days and remote instruction and emergency leave for teachers. The $40 million allocated to the Department of Education in the fund may be used for necessary wrap around services, such as after school programs, mental health care and transportation.

On the Senate floor, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said this relief package is "just the beginning."

"We will be back here in January when we will have an even better understanding of the length and width of the damage done in our counties," Thayer said.

There is a bicameral desire to complete business as quickly as possible, Thayer added, with the hope to finish early Friday afternoon.

The House and Senate is scheduled to reconvene for day 2 of the 2022 Special Session at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

This story was posted on 2022-08-25 06:28:25
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