Beshear cites progress in FEMA response to Kentucky flooding

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear pointed to signs of progress Thursday as federal emergency personnel respond to requests for assistance in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky, but stressed that “there is still no is enough” while people work to recover from disaster that flattened homes and flooded communities.

A week ago, the Democratic governor rebuked the response of the Federal Emergency Management AgencyA few days later President Joe Biden visited the affected Appalachian region and declared that the federal government would provide support until residents recovered. The catastrophic flooding caused at least 39 deaths. Two women from the region are still missing.

Beshear sounded more upbeat Thursday in his updated assessment of FEMA’s response, while emphasizing that the state is closely monitoring the agency’s handling of aid requests.

Since flash flooding hit parts of eastern Kentucky late last month, FEMA has approved more than $40 million in grants for 5,267 households under its Individuals and Households Program, the governor said. About half of the total requests for assistance have been approved so far, up from the “30-something percent” figure he initially saw, he said.

“It’s still not enough, but it’s progress,” Beshear told a news conference. “And when our federal partners, even if we feel frustrated at times, are making real progress, we want to thank them, as we continue to push FEMA to help our families.”

That money distributed by FEMA includes more than $32 million in housing assistance grants to help people restore their homes to “sanitary and habitable condition,” Beshear said. Another $8 million went to help people meet other immediate needs, such as medical and dental expenses, moving and storage costs and child care, she said.

Of more than 10,000 applications for assistance, 1,502 are considered ineligible at this time, FEMA said Thursday. He said the reasons may include when FEMA aid would duplicate benefits from other sources, including insurance. Other reasons may include problems with verifying the identity of the applicant or the status of the owner or other missing documents.

A denial of assistance is not “necessarily the end of the road” in seeking help, FEMA has said. Agency staff are reaching out to people who are being denied review of their applications.

Beshear urged people in those situations Thursday to “keep up the pressure” and meet with FEMA officials “face-to-face” to do a thorough review. The agency is also texting people who haven’t responded to calls as another means to communicate. the governor said.

He praised those efforts, saying, “It has to happen, because our people depend on it.”

The governor said there are a lot of “moving pieces” regarding the government’s relief effort.

“We’re going to try to dig deeper into the different buckets,” the governor said. “How many are pending, how many have been denied, how many have been denied and then approved, what are the reasons. But we are getting more transparency and more numbers. It will help us to be good defenders. … And it will help families know the extra work they have to do.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky leaders are putting together a state aid package for the flood-affected region. Beshear said she is “ever closer” to calling a special legislative session to address the legislation.

“We have to have an agreement in advance on all the pieces,” the governor said. “That’s going well. I hope that the next day we can have a firm date.”

Meanwhile, more than 450 people made homeless by the flooding are housed in state parks, churches, schools and community centers, Beshear said. Of that total, 319 are staying in state parks.

In response to the mental stress caused by the disaster, crisis counseling teams are working in the flood-affected areas, he said. The teams are working through the local Community Mental Health Centers.

Urging people to reach out if they need support, the governor said, “It’s okay to not be okay. I don’t know how someone can be okay if they have lost everything and/or lost a loved one.”

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