By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — President Biden announced late Wednesday he would amend the emergency declaration for Kentucky communities devastated by tornadoes last week. The move means the federal government will cover 100% of eligible costs for 30 days.
That includes covering all debris removal and shelter costs as well as the overtime for first responders. Previously, when Biden approved the first emergency declaration Sunday, it allowed the federal government to cover 75% of eligible costs.
“When you look around here, it’s just almost beyond belief,” Biden said while touring Dawson Springs on Wednesday. “These tornadoes devoured everything in their path. And, you know, as I flew over here in the helicopter, you can look down and you see a house 20 yards away from a house that’s devastated, and the house is in good shape.”
Biden’s action comes after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear asked the federal government to take that step. Under normal emergency declarations, the state and the localities impacted are responsible for the 25%.
Beshear said the federal government’s actions will “free up” funds for the state and communities to cover longer-term costs associated with the rebuilding effort.
“He actually said that when the request came in, he didn’t know if he had the legal authority to do that,” Beshear said of the request to the president.
The 75-25 split will resume when the 30-day window ends, but Beshear said he would likely ask for more help when that time comes.
Less than a week after the tornadoes hit, Beshear said that there have been about 5,500 people who have registered for disaster assistance from FEMA and approximately $550,000 that has been released.
The death toll has risen 76 after the body of a 13-year-old female from Bowling Green was found. Beshear said that at least 138 people also suffered injuries and went to a hospital during or after the storm.
The disaster relief fund the state established after the storms has now raised nearly $16 million with more than 93,000 donations. The fund will be used to cover funeral expenses for those who died in the storm, but on Thursday, Beshear added the state is looking at using money from the fund to help homeowners who did not have insurance with their recovery efforts.
FEMA will provide homeowners with up to $37,500 in funding to cover the costs of repairing their homes. While that’s on top of what private insurance will provide, Beshear said that will not be enough for those uninsured.
“It hit neighborhoods of people that were already struggling to get by,” Beshear said. “It’s not that they didn’t want to have homeowners insurance. It’s that they couldn’t afford it.”