Kentucky’s Beshear says FEMA denying too many requests
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear complained Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is denying too many requests for assistance in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky, and urged those getting turned down to take their cases directly to agency representatives in the region.
Offering the mantra of “appeal, appeal and appeal,” Beshear told people applying for disaster aid: “Number one, do not give up. Number two, if you’re denied, go and look these people in the eye.”
Beshear accompanied President Joe Biden during a visit to the stricken Appalachian region Monday, when the president declared the federal government would provide support until residents were back on their feet. The governor said Thursday that he was grateful for the quick federal response to the catastrophic flash flooding late last month and the deployment of FEMA officials to the region. Surging waters swept away homes, inundated communities and led to at least 38 deaths.
But the Democratic governor flatly said “we need to see better outcomes” for more eastern Kentuckians applying to FEMA for assistance to help them recover from the devastation.
“Too many people are being denied,” Beshear said at a news conference. “Not enough people are being approved. And this is the time that FEMA’s got to get it right. To change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars and to get it right here.”
FEMA officials did not immediately offer a response Thursday when contacted by emails.
The governor, who is running for reelection next year, has experience shepherding a region hit by disaster. Last December, deadly tornadoes devastated several towns in western Kentucky.
Beshear said Thursday he didn’t yet have figures from eastern Kentucky reflecting the percentage of applications for aid being denied by FEMA. The agency has promised to provide those figures, he said, along with data showing the reasons why people were denied.
The governor and a Kentucky lawmaker from the hard-hit region offered examples of people in dire straits either being denied assistance or being offered inadequate amounts of aid.
“I talked to somebody whose 82-year-old grandmother was told at a site visit that everything was OK … only to get denied later that night through an email,” Beshear said. “It’s not right. We’re going to keep running this down.”
Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith said Thursday that he’s heard from constituents who said they were denied assistance or offered a “grotesquely inadequate amount” to rebuild. One family reaching out to his office said they were offered $8,000 for their losses, the Republican lawmaker said in a news release.
“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,” he said.
Some families are staying in tents on their property, unable or unwilling to leave for temporary housing for fear of looting, Smith said.
The governor criticized the application process, saying flood victims are being denied assistance when lacking necessary documents. Beshear said he expressed his concerns to Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and top FEMA administrators about the denials for assistance.
“I’m hearing from the very top levels that they fully agree,” the governor said, referring to his concerns. “And from the people on the ground, I was talking to them yesterday, they want to provide help. Something in the middle is problematic.”
Beshear’s frustration boiled over when referring to the case of the grandmother. She was rescued from her vehicle as it was being swept away by floodwaters, he said.
“Her house, already gone,” he said. “Her vehicle now gone. All she’s got is what’s on her. And you’re going to say she doesn’t qualify, for what? If you’re going to deny somebody because they don’t, say, have the deed of their house on them — they don’t have it. It’s gone. We can replace it. Let’s not deny them. Let’s give them the opportunity to get the paperwork that they need.”