(The Center Square) – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 5, the emergency relief package for communities devastated by last month’s tornadoes, into law Thursday, one day after both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously approved the $200 million bill.
Beshear signed the bill during a press conference with lawmakers from western and southern parts of the state surrounding him. An emergency clause in the bill means it will take effect immediately.
The storms hit those communities during an eight-hour stretch on Dec. 10 and 11 included one tornado that traveled nearly 166 miles and reached wind speeds of 190 miles per hour. In all, the National Weather Service confirmed 20 tornadoes hit Kentucky as part of a weather system that saw 66 tornadoes hit nine southeastern and midwestern states.
In Kentucky, 77 people died from the storms.
“It wiped out almost the entirety of several towns, and it left so many of our families struggling,” Beshear said. “I’m proud that we’ve all worked together to respond to meet the needs of these families, but we know that it’s going to take a long time, a year, maybe two, to not just dig out but to rebuild.
The package includes $155 million for city and county governments, nonprofit groups, school districts and utility providers to cover the cost of repair work and replacement structures. That funding will come from general fund dollars in the current fiscal year budget.
The state Department of Education will receive $30 million to award to school districts. That funding will cover expenses tied to transporting students displaced by the storm and other essential services, including counseling for students.
“With our children that have lived through this experience, to know there is funding there to help them towards mental health… these kids are going to be living with this for a very long time,” state Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembrooke, said Wednesday on the House floor.
Another $15 million will go to Kentucky Emergency Management to acquire federally approved temporary housing units. That money will be returned through insurance and federal funding.
State Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said Wednesday there will be a need for additional funding. Her community includes about 250 displaced residents, and the storm destroyed a significant portion of the city’s rental units.
“I would urge this body to remember that we need to think about housing,” she said.
The state funding is in addition to the federal government approving full funding of 30 days of cleanup and debris removal costs. In addition, the state established a relief fund that has received about $40 million in contributions.
That money will be used to cover burial expenses for those who died in the storm and also provide funding for uninsured homeowners who suffered property damage.