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Beshear, lawmakers introduce eastern Kentucky flood relief package

J. Tyler Franklin

On the first day of the three-day special legislative session, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican leaders of the legislature announced a $213 million relief package for eastern Kentucky communities impacted by flooding.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Beshear said the measure is intended to be a temporary reprieve. More assistance will likely come during the next regular legislative session, which begins in January.

“It is meant until the next meeting of the General Assembly until we have more information on the ground. This is to ensure that we don’t have to wait that long to get these communities back up on their feet,” Beshear said.

The bill would create the Eastern Kentucky State Aid Fund for Emergencies or the “EKSAFE” fund, which would provide grants for entities responding to the disaster.

Of the total $212.7 million set aside for the fund, $115 million would go to local governments, utilities and nonprofits rebuilding vital services and infrastructure after the disaster, $45 million would be set aside to repair roads and highways, $40 million would go to schools and $12.7 million would help fix water systems, school buildings and provide temporary housing.

The package is 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 would come from coronavirus relief money.

Beshear said funds could be used to reimburse for services, personnel and equipment provided during recovery efforts, replacing or repairing publicly owned buildings and propping up local governments and school districts that are awaiting insurance claims and FEMA disaster assistance.

The legislation also provides flexibility for school districts, allowing the Commissioner of Education to waive up to 15 student attendance days due to flooding on a school-by-school basis.

Beshear said the recovery effort would be one of the most complicated efforts the country has ever seen.

“This is not going to be the final action by the General Assembly to help in rebuilding, we’re looking at years and not just the next six months,” Beshear said.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said the legislature would work with the governor’s office and the federal government on longer term solutions and that this was a testament to how people come together in Kentucky.

“I don’t think enough can possibly be said about the work they’ve done,” Stivers said.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said the bill was a non-partisan effort and that both Republicans and Democrats were “tireless advocates” for the legislation.

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