FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee advanced a massive $200 million Kentucky tornado relief measure that would help those affected by the December tornadoes obtain housing and educational services.
Senate Bill 5 would appropriate $155 million in general funds for fiscal year 2021-2022 to the newly-created West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund.
The legislation would also allocate $30 million to the Kentucky Department of Education for school districts and $15 million to Kentucky Emergency Management for the purchase of temporary FEMA-eligible housing.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, told the committee that money for the fund comes from varying sources, including state and federal government and gifts from private organizations. Eligible recipients include cities, counties, public utilities, state agencies and school districts in the affected areas.
Howell said people are concerned that the damage will reverse advances in the area over the past 10 years, particularly efforts to stem population declines.
“One of the greatest concerns for the people in Mayfield and the school system is keeping those people there,” he said. “Not only have so many of them lost their homes, but a lot of them have lost their jobs as well. So it’s very difficult for them to stay anchored in the community.”
Several lawmakers shared stories in Tuesday’s meeting about the devastation from the storms.
Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said he drove through Princeton in Caldwell County the day after it suffered extensive damage.
“It was evident the tornado stayed on the ground for miles at a time and wiped out everything in its path,” he said.
Mills said $300,000 homes were “just gone,” and some residents were not insured or were underinsured. He said the $15 million for temporary housing would cover the purchase of 200 or more mobile homes.
“They just need a place to land,” he said of the residents.
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, said nearly 30 people lost their lives in Bremen and Dawson Springs during the torrential weather.
“Emergency responders did a great job,” he said. “Given my health, I wasn’t able to be on the ground. But talking to them over the phone, the EMTs, the fire departments, the police, all did a great job responding immediately. As soon as I got on the phone, most of them were already on the ground.”
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said he was thankful for the bill, and he appreciates the Senate’s West Kentucky delegation for its unified support. He said drone footage he shot of the damage was shared thousands of times, even in Singapore.
“One of the biggest things and the most jaw-dropping things that I saw with my own eyes was the courthouse there in downtown Mayfield, which is a complete loss,” he said. “Three semi truckloads worth of files are now sitting in Detroit, Mich., being freeze-dried and restored by a company that does that.”
Although not part of Western Kentucky, areas in Taylor County received substantial damage, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said. He reported that 74 homes were lost, and many people in agriculture were negatively impacted.
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said the recent tornadoes elicited flashbacks to West Liberty when a tornado destroyed the city and affected residents a few years ago.
“I got no sleep. My heart was with you all,” she said, referring to how she felt after learning about the recent tornadoes.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
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