Amendment to flood relief bill would add help for housing

Published 3:00 pm Friday, August 26, 2022

Day two of the special session of the General Assembly to provide relief to the area of eastern Kentucky hit hard by flooding last month saw both the House and Senate have the second of three required readings of the bill, possibly clearing the way for final action Friday.

The plan that had been outlined by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, provided that the Senate bill would be substituted for by the House bill, if the language is identical.

However, that may change, as Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, who represents several of the hardest hit counties, announced he was filing an amendment to the bill.

“There is nothing in the bill to address the housing needs of these residents,” he told his colleagues on the Senate floor. “Since there was no housing assistance available to victims of last December’s tornado outbreak in western Kentucky, they would be included in this as well.”

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Smith said if he had known that in the western Kentucky relief bill, he would not have voted for it.  “They need all the resources they can get. At this moment, I’m telling you, we need this.”

His amendment will not be taken up until the bill reaches the Senate floor.

The two chambers’ bills, which are currently identical, have three main provisions.

–Allocating $200 million from the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, also known as the “Rainy Day Fund,” to establish Eastern Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies fund, or EKSAFE.

$115 million of that is provided to the Department of Military Affairs Division of Emergency Management to financially support cities, counties, school districts, state agencies and nonprofit or public utility service providers in the disaster areas, as reimbursement for services, personnel and equipment provided during the response and recovery phases; cost of replacement or repair of publicly owned buildings and their contents. This, while they await insurance and FEMA disaster assistance.

$45 million goes to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s highways budget for the state matching funds to pay for bridge and road repairs and replacement.

$40 million to the Department of Education for financial assistance to school districts to support repairs of school building facilities, additional transportation costs for displaced students and wrap-around services for school children and their families recovering from the impacts of the storms and flooding.

–Nearly $12.7 million in Fiscal Year 2022 from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is earmarked for EKSAFE.  These funds will go toward water and sewer infrastructure projects, the building of replacement school facilities and housing sites not previously used, but now designed to mitigate the risk of future flooding.

–Provide flexibility for school districts in the impacted area, by allowing districts to waive up to 15 instructional days missed, use 20 days of targeted remote instruction, and school calendar flexibility.

The House and Senate Budget Committees will hold a joint meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, followed by the two chambers convening at 10.