By: Tessa Duvall
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has turned away too many Eastern Kentuckians seeking help in the aftermath of July’s catastrophic flooding that left 38 people dead and hundreds more without homes, state leaders said Thursday.
“Too many people are being denied. Not enough people are being approved,” Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference. “This is the time that FEMA’s gotta get it right, to change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars.”
State Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said in news release, he has received “countless phone calls from desperate eastern Kentucky residents” outlining FEMA’s “alleged inaction, denials and an indication of surprisingly inadequate financial assistance to rebuild their homes and lives.”
Smith said one family told his office they received only $8,000 after being approved for FEMA assistance.
“To me, that means the federal government has decided the total value of this families’ livelihood, literally everything they have to their name, is only worth $8,000,” Smith said in the release. “I am speechless, I am heartbroken, and I am angry.”
Similarly, Beshear recounted a story of an 82-year-old woman who was told during a site visit that her application for aid was good to go, only to receive a denial via email later that night.
“It’s not right,” he said.
FEMA has approved 12 counties for residents to receive individual assistance and 13 counties for public assistance to help with infrastructure, Beshear said. Survivors in any of the 12 counties approved for individual assistance are eligible to get $500 in critical needs assistance; more than 6,000 applicants have received this help, he said.
Beshear also said $300 payments from the clean and sanitize program seem to be reaching people, but “it isn’t nearly enough when 14 days after, you’ve got mold 3-and-a-half feet up in where you were living.”
The governor urged people to keep pushing on FEMA — “appeal, appeal, appeal,” he said — and promised he would do the same.
“Let me say to people applying for disaster assistance: No. 1, do not give up,” he said. “No. 2, if you’re denied, go and look these people in the eye.”
FEMA has said it will provide the governor with information about how many claims have been denied and for what reasons, he said. Some people have been denied for not providing all the necessary documents, which Beshear said should be treated as an incomplete submission.
“We’re dealing with major natural disasters that come through and wipe out everything that people have,” he said. “And I know the people on the ground see it and want to help these folks, but whoever in that middle part is denying folks, I want them to talk to the grandmother that was pulled out of her vehicle as it was being swept away. Her house already gone, her vehicle now gone. All she’s got is what’s on her and you’re gonna say she doesn’t qualify for what?
And if you’re gonna deny somebody because they don’t have, say, the deed of their house on them? They don’t have it. It’s gone,” a frustrated Beshear said. “We can replace it. But you tell them to register now, let’s not deny them. Let’s give them the opportunity to get the paperwork that they need.”
Beshear said he’s told President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, FEMA leaders and others that too many Kentuckians are going without needed federal help.
“I’m hearing from the very top levels that they fully agree,” he said. “I’m going to continue to advocate and push as hard as I can to get the changes that we need so that people can get their dollars.”
In his visit to Eastern Kentucky on Monday, Biden promised to support the recovery for as long as it takes.
“We’re staying until everybody’s back to where they were,” he said. “Not a joke.”
Beshear did express gratitude for the federal response making individual assistance available so quickly.
“It’s not that I’m not grateful,” he said. “It’s just that these people need help, and I want them to get the help.”
Smith promised Eastern Kentucky residents that he would “not rest until you get the help you desperately need and deserve” and called on Biden and FEMA to step up their response.
“While I appreciate President Biden visiting the region and caring about our plight, we need real action and results from FEMA, not just a press conference and encouraging words,” he said in the news release.