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Mitch McConnell: Kentucky’s communities will bounce back from last year’s natural disasters

When I visited Mayfield in mid-December last year, the town was a scene of total devastation. The tornado that ripped through only days prior had wrecked homes, ravaged businesses, and left a stream of broken lives in its wake.

It was a dark period in Mayfield’s history. Even so, glimpses of light peered through the storm clouds: volunteers were already there offering help, donations poured in from around the country, and Mayfield’s leaders promised their community would bounce back, no matter how long it took to recover.

Last week, I visited Mayfield again – my third trip to the town since last December – as part of a Commonwealth-wide tour during the Senate’s state work period. I also met with leaders in Bowling Green, which was similarly devastated by December’s tornados, and traveled to Boyd County to discuss Northeastern Kentucky’s recovery from multiple natural disasters, including ice storms and flooding, with County Judge-Executives from the area. The scenes could not have been more different from what I had previously seen.

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Local leaders are upbeat about their progress and optimistic for the future. In Mayfield, Mayor O’Nan and officials from FEMA told me they have removed almost all debris from December’s storms. FEMA is beginning the rebuilding process for county facilities, businesses are reopening, and – most importantly – those displaced by the storm are all in safe, sanitary housing. The message was much the same in Warren and Boyd counties.

When I make these types of visits, I’m there to listen to those impacted by the natural disaster so I can take their stories back to Washington and help secure federal aid for their recovery. In this case, I heard one concern repeatedly: that many communities did not have the resources necessary to fund their recovery. Normally, FEMA covers 75% of debris removal, rebuilding, and future disaster mitigation costs, leaving the remaining 25% to state and local governments.

But the last two years have been anything but normal. Five presidentially-declared Major Disasters hit the Commonwealth in that time period, sometimes striking the same communities multiple times. After witnessing the destruction across our state, I knew many towns and counties simply couldn’t afford to pay what FEMA requested of them.

So when I returned to Washington earlier this year, I set out to get Kentuckians some extra help. In the most recent government funding bill, which the President signed into law in March, I increased FEMA’s cost-sharing commitment for disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021 from 75% to 90%. In other words, the federal government will now pay ninety cents out of every dollar spent on the response and recovery from these disasters. This cost-share adjustment will remain in place for as long as the rebuilding process takes, even years into the future.

I also heard that many Western Kentucky farmers had lost grain storage facilities in December’s storms and worried they wouldn’t be able to build new ones in time for harvest. So I made sure this year’s government funding bill instructed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify funding streams to construct new ground storage facilities. Our farmers shouldn’t have to lose their hard-earned harvest because of uncontrollable weather events.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also announced they would provide Kentucky with nearly $75 million for long-term recovery efforts from last year’s tornados and flooding. Communities can use this money, which comes from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program I supported in last year’s appropriations process, for a wide variety of purposes, including paying for the remaining 10% of disaster recovery costs not covered by FEMA.

Kentucky is still a long way from fully healing the scars of last year’s disasters. But, as I saw during my trip last week, we are well-equipped to do so. I am profoundly thankful to the hardworking local leaders and generous volunteers leading the charge.

I’m happy to provide whatever help I can through my role as Senate Republican Leader and look forward to continuing my close coordination with those leading our recovery efforts. After touring these affected communities, I’m more confident than ever that Kentucky will bounce back, bigger and better than before.

Mitch McConnell is the United States Senate Republican Leader from Kentucky.

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