Budget director asks lawmakers to revise legislation for flood fund

Published 1:18 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023


Kentucky Today

State Budget Director John Hicks appeared before a legislative committee on Tuesday, asking members to revise legislation passed during last year’s special session establishing the Eastern Kentucky SAFE Fund for recovery from the historic flooding that left over 40-people dead.

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Lawmakers approved $200 million for recovery and rebuilding, $115 million of which was earmarked for use by the Department for Military Affairs and the Division of Emergency Management, one piece involving $75 million, the other $40 million.

“The language of the bill said if the $75 million hadn’t been totally awarded by Jan.7, 2023, then the $40 million would expire,” Hicks said. “I’m here today to ask the General Assembly to amend that legislation, to retain that $40 million within the $115 million appropriated to Emergency Management.”

Hicks said they have only awarded a little over half of the $75 million, so far. “There’s a lag time on some projects, in particular water and sewer infrastructure projects, because of the nature of a construction project we have not really started to see opening of the request from the water and sewer districts in that region, for permanent repairs to the flood damage.”

He pointed out that the Division of Water has estimated there was over $1 billion in damage, so more requests will be coming and that $40 million will help the recovery, and asked lawmakers to change the wording of the legislation so they don’t lose access to the other $40 million.

Hicks also noted that there was language in the special session legislation providing $45 million for the Transportation Cabinet to use as matching funds for federal grants to repair state-owned roads and bridges.

“We have learned there are instances where federal agencies, particularly FEMA, have denied some of our claims,” he told the panel.  “The situation around that is the federal government’s uncertainty about the pre-disaster condition of a road or bridge.  You have to have really good documentation that it was in good shape prior to the flood, and that the flood caused the damage to be repaired.  There are instances in which we don’t get what we expect in terms of federal dollars.”

He asked that the $45 million still be available to repair state roads and bridges, even without the match.

Since the deadline to introduce new legislation has passed, lawmakers would have to add the language requested by Hicks to another bill currently before the General Assembly.