Lawmakers pass disaster relief package in special session
In what has been described as a first step for eastern Kentucky flood recovery efforts and continued support for tornado recovery in western Kentucky, state lawmakers approved HB1 Friday, capping a three-day special legislative session. The $212.6 million relief package was promptly signed by Gov. Andy Beshear.
Primary bill sponsor Rep. John Blanton said the legislative package will help meet some immediate needs of eastern Kentuckians and communities affected by last month’s devastating flooding.
“We’re trying to get them something quick … to begin to help get people into places to stay, to get water lines repaired, to get electric, sewer, bridges built back, so that we can begin looking at a rebuilding process,” Blanton said.
HB1 establishes the East Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (EKSAFE) fund to be administered by the Division of Emergency Management. The fund will provide financial assistance and support to the 18 southeastern Kentucky counties named in the federal disaster declaration.
The measure also modified a similar fund established in the wake of the December 2021 tornado outbreak in western Kentucky (now called the WKSAFE fund) to extend the time period for expenditures to June 30, 2026 and allow greater flexibility in how funding could be used.
“Kentucky has experienced two catastrophic disasters in a period of seven months,” Harlan County Judge/Executive Dan Mosley said. “I applaud the Governor and Legislature for taking quick steps again just like they did in western Kentucky to provide help for the impacted counties in eastern Kentucky.
“The widespread calamity to roads, bridges, water and wastewater services is hard to comprehend, but the funding identified will help these counties and cities start to rebuild,” added Mosley, who is KACo’s 2nd vice president. “Sadly, many families have lost everything. I have never seen an event in this region more devastating, and we all must continue to do everything we can to help our friends and neighbors through this most difficult time.”
Although the flood relief package does not provide direct funding for individual housing assistance, Rep. Blanton said $75 million of it will allow emergency management officials to purchase more trailers for intermediate housing for residents many of whom are still living in tents.
“We’ve gotta get a roof over these people’s heads before cold weather gets here,” Blanton said.
Legislative leaders vowed to address more long-term flood recovery needs when the General Assembly returns to session in January.
Perry County Judge/Executive Scott Alexander said he is appreciative of the initial efforts to make headway on flood recovery and of the open line of communication he has had with legislative officials and Gov. Andy Beshear.
“There is a lot of work to do, and the flooding has taken its toll on people. It’s a mental and physical toll on individuals,” Alexander said. “We really have to address the housing and where we build. That’s the biggest question: where can we go?”
The bill’s emergency clause allowed it to go into effect immediately upon the signature of the Governor.