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Ky. sets FEMA reimbursement window for tornado cleanup

Artist Brent McKinney walks away from the wreckage that once was the Ice House Gallery, home to the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild. It took a direct hit from the December tornadoes.
Artist Brent McKinney walks away from the wreckage that once was the Ice House Gallery, home to the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild. It took a direct hit from the December tornadoes.

When President Joe Biden toured western Kentuckyfollowing December’s deadly tornadoes, he said the federal government would pay 100% of the cleanup efforts for the first 30 days after the disaster. As with most federal aid, there are conditions.

The funding will come to Kentucky in the form of reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs incurred over two 30-day periods. 

On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said the timeframes that Kentucky wants to cover with that FEMA payback include: 

  • Dec. 27, 2021 - Jan. 25, 2022: Debris removal expenses
  • Dec. 12, 2021 - Jan. 10, 2022: Sheltering, emergency operations, evaluation and search and rescue expenses. 

State and local officials have estimated the total cost of cleanup will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Beshear said it was up to his administration and local leaders of areas that sustained the harshest damage to choose which periods would be the most helpful to get reimbursed for.

“We’re able to have most all of the county judges and mayors that were impacted on a call to talk to them about that. I think we reached an agreement and talked to several others that weren’t able to make the call,” he said. 

Beshear said the state can also qualify for funds through the recently signed Consolidated Appropriations Act, a federal cost-sharing program. That money could go toward other natural disasters that hit Kentucky in the recent months.

Under the new program, the federal government is required to cover 90% of certain disaster relief costs related to “any emergency or major disaster declaration declared occurring or having an incident period beginning between, Jan.1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021,” according to the FEMA website.

FEMA leadership is still in the process of deciding how the 90/10 split will take place and how funds will be retroactively disbursed.

Beshear said he believes the time period specified in the Consolidated Appropriations Act will not only cover the tornado outbreak, but the December ice storm along with some recent floods in the region.

Before the program, the typical split between the federal government and state and local governments was 75/25.

“This is going to be an enormous help for our community,” Beshear said. “Without extra help, I don’t know how Graves Country and Hopkins County and maybe even Muhlenberg County would stay afloat.”

Beshear urged the state legislature to allocate more funding toward relief efforts. In January, the lawmakers approved $200 million in tornado funding

“We have not had any appropriation past the original $15 million for travel trailers and $30 million for education-related needs,” Beshear said. “Right now, the counties are having to front the debris removal costs which are in the millions of dollars. They’re not in the position to do that.”

The legislature set aside the remaining $155 million to spend once lawmakers better understand the specific needs tornado-affected communities have. 

“Make the appropriation, all these monies are going to these localities that you represent,” Beshear said. 


Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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