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In an agency first, FEMA frees up on-site representatives to approve eastern Kentucky claims

flood
Timothy D. Easley/AP
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FR43398 AP
Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter Adelynn Bowling watches as her property becomes covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky., Thursday, July 28, 2022. Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FEMA is making some first-in-the-nation changes to how it responds to natural disasters, as Kentucky presses for more help in the face of catastrophic flooding.

"I think FEMA heard us. And that's everybody."
Gov. Andy Beshear

In response to pressure to approve more claims and give applicants more assistance and latitude in applying, FEMA is now allowing its on-the-ground workers in disaster recovery centers in eastern Kentucky not only access to the claims but the authority to approve them.

It’s a step Gov. Andy Beshear says shows the federal agency is taking action following criticisms that it’s issuing too many denials in the wake of the disastrous flooding. Will it be enough? Beshear says that remains to be seen.

"Let's see how this new step works. My goal is to be relentless is pushing for the people of Kentucky. We need this to work. FEMA's got to get it right," the governor said Monday. "It may take more steps, but I want to credit them with a couple new steps we've never seen anywhere else that I think could help people."

So far, more than 9,200 claims have been submitted, but the state is working on developing metrics to show what percentage have been denied. For now, the governor says it’s still far too many.

A dozen counties have been approved for individual assistance in eastern Kentucky. Eight disaster recovery centers have been set up with five more in the process of opening.

Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are locations that provide both state and federal resources at one stop to best serve flood victims. Unless otherwise noted, DRCs are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 1 to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Below is a list of centers:

  • Breathitt County Breathitt County Library, 1024 College Avenue, Jackson KY 41339
  • Clay County Clay County Community Center, 311 Hwy 638, Manchester KY 40962
  • Knott County Knott County Sportsplex, 450 Kenny Champion Loop #8765, Leburn KY 41831
  • Leslie County – Aug. 18-20, Aug. 25-27 Flood Plains Management Building, 24770 Hwy 421, Hyden KY 41749
  • Letcher County Letcher County Recreation Center, 1505 Jenkins Road, Whitesburg KY 41858
  • Magoffin County – Aug. 14-16, Aug. 21-23 Magoffin County Health Department, 119 E. Mountain Parkway, Salyersville KY 41465
  • Owsley County – Aug. 14-16, Aug. 21-23 Owsley Recreation Center, 99 Country Barn Road, Booneville KY 41314
  • Perry County Hazard Community College, First Federal Center, 1 Community Drive, Hazard KY 41701
  • Pike County Dorton Community Center, 112 Dorton Hill Road, Jenkins KY 41722
  • Whitley County – Aug. 21-23, Aug. 28-30 Whitley County Home Health Agency, 368 Penny Lane, Williamsburg KY 40769

Details are still few and far between on what kind of legislation might come out of an expected special legislative session aimed at providing assistance to flood-ravaged parts of eastern Kentucky. But the session itself is sounding all but certain.

Beshear said he believes the session will happen – with the framework taking shape as early as the next four weeks. The governor said all parties are committed to the extra session and in-depth conversations are going on about what might be voted on.

Asked if there’s anything the state might do to fill in the gaps created by FEMA denials, he pointed to the ways the donations to Western Kentucky in the wake of deadly tornadoes last year were used.

"We were able to do a lot with the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, including payments above and beyond where FEMA paid out too little," the governor said. "We were able to help with those that were insured that weren't going to get FEMA but had still suffered significant losses."

So far, the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund has paid for nearly all of the funerals of victims of the flooding.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.