The Governor’s Race: Beshear, Cameron on natural disaster recovery, preparedness

Published 4:29 pm Friday, October 13, 2023

Editor’s note: This is part of weekly series examining the race for governor.

In December 2021, tornadoes struck Western Kentucky, killing 81 people and destroying over 250 houses.

Not even a year later, in July 2022, Eastern Kentucky flooded as 45 people lost their lives and hundreds more lost their homes.

The recovery process for both natural disasters will last years, maybe decades.

What have Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron done to help, and what have they promised to do if elected this November?

Beshear and Team Kentucky

Beshear was on the ground immediately after tornadoes struck Western Kentucky and floods hit Eastern Kentucky.

Every chance he gets, Beshear talks about his commitment to long-term recovery.

“I made a promise on day one, that we would rebuild every home and every life and I’ve shown up day in and day out, over 17 times in Graves County alone,” Beshear said Thursday night during his first debate with Cameron.

“… We are not just re-building houses, we are rebuilding neighborhoods. We are not just rebuilding, we are revitalizing.”

His administration also created the Team Kentucky Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund and Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund to collect private donations from across the country.

The tornado fund raised $52.3 million. After paying for funeral expenses, the fund was divided as such:

  • $9.6 million for assistance to insured and uninsured homeowners and renters;
  • $4 million for local farmers;
  • $10 million in thousand-dollar checks to survivors who were insured homeowners or were approved for FEMA assistance;
  • $21.6 million for rebuilding and repairing 300 homes through nonprofit partners; and
  • $8.4 million for unmet needs and life essentials as determined by the areas’ long term recovery groups.

A controversy arose last year when the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that some of the $1,000 checks went to people who did not need them.

The state legislature has since criticized the Beshear administration for allegedly not properly auditing the funds, and Auditor Mike Harmon has initiated a special audit.

The flood fund raised $13.2 million; $440,000 went to funeral expenses, $4 million was allocated for immediate relief to survivors and $1 million was dedicated for rebuilding and repairing homes with nonprofit partners.

The remainder of the funds will be spent on Higher Ground Communities, planned neighborhoods above the flood plain in Perry, Letcher, Knott and Floyd counties.

Beshear has said that those communities are being slowed by environmental reviews, but that they are ready to hit the ground running as soon as all the federal requirements are checked off.

The majority Republican legislature also created its own recovery funds in the 2022 regular session for the tornadoes and in a 2022 special session after the flooding.

The State Aid Funding for Emergencies appropriates $200 million each to Eastern and Western Kentucky, along specific spending guidelines.

Affordable housing

Both Western and Eastern Kentucky had housing crises before the natural disasters struck and exacerbated the problem.

The candidates spoke about what they would do to help alleviate the issue during Thursday’s debate.

Cameron said that affordable housing is important, no matter which of Kentucky‘s 120 counties one lives in.

“If that means making allowance within our budget to do so as a priority, I will do that as one of my first steps as the next governor of the Commonwealth,” he said.

At a Friday morning press conference, Cameron blamed the “Biden-Beshear economy” for rising costs and mortgages.

As governor, Cameron said he would promote a “culture of work,” not welfare, by implementing work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients.

He would also move forward in eliminating the income tax.

“We need to give folks back their money to allow them to stretch the dollar further so that they can pay for these groceries, so they can make their house payment, so that they can buy a home, so that they can save towards buying a home,” Cameron said. “And so I’m committed to doing that.”

Cameron also tried to deflect credit for recovery from Beshear‘s efforts to those of the state legislature and Kentucky’s federal delegation in Congress, specifically regarding transportation funding fixing roads coming from the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“Gov. Beshear certainly goes to the photo and press conferences, but the fact of the matter is that was the federal delegation in the United States Senate that got that bipartisan measure passed so that everyone in here can benefit,” Cameron said.

Beshear countered that people see him in Western Kentucky more than any other governor in memory because “we show up to get those results.”

“You have to be there each and every day when our people are going through difficult times to be able to tell people, to look them in the eye and say we are going to help you to rebuild, to make sure you move forward,” he said.

“… You gotta be able to bring people together, and it doesn’t happen when everything you see is through a partisan lens.”

On affordable housing, Beshear said that the need for affordable housing is even greater not only in light of the natural disasters, but also considering the industries coming to Kentucky.

He said that his proposed budget, which would have to be approved by the state legislature, includes $15 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“It’s typically leveraged about nine to one, meaning about nine times that amount of private sector investment that comes with it,“ Beshear said. “But we also have to look out and tweak the program to make sure that these aren’t just going into our biggest cities.”