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Appalachian advocacy groups ask Congress to reform flood programs

After the July 2022 floods hit eastern Kentucky, many people were left cleaning layers of thick putrid mud out of homes and businesses.
Justin Hicks
After the July 2022 floods hit eastern Kentucky, many people were left cleaning layers of thick putrid mud out of homes and businesses.

Several advocacy groups for Appalachian communities are calling on Congress to reform some disaster relief and preparation programs. They say it’s needed as climate change causes more frequent extreme flooding.

Appalachian advocacy groups want federal lawmakers to better protect and restore communities from flooding events. They say reforms are desperately needed as climate change causes more frequent extreme flooding.

Local and national advocacy groups penned an open letter along with a more detailed policy and funding recommendations to members of Congress. Many of the groups organize around social and environmental justice issues in Appalachia.

One key priority is to cut the amount local governments are expected to pay toward flood recovery. Right now, local governments pay for 25% of the cost and federal emergency funds foot the rest.

But even paying that much, can be prohibitive for some communities. Fewer than 2,000 people live in the Appalachian community of Jenkins, Kentucky, and in 2022 their community lost around 100 homes to flooding.

“It’s tough saying, we want to repair that but can we afford that 25% match to even repair what was damaged in the storms?” Jenkins Mayor Todd DePriest said in a press call with advocates.

ReImagine Appalachia, the Appalachian Citizens Law Center and the National Wildlife Federation are spearheading the platform although dozens of organizations and local political offices have also signaled their support.

The groups want faster and more up-front (rather than reimbursed) funding structures for federal flood recovery and preparation programs.

They also have a series of policy recommendations to make flood recovery quicker and more generous for individual households.

One policy seeks to make government-provided flood insurance cheaper for low-income families. Households hit by flooding are supposed to get flood insurance when taking federal aid. But premiums can be expensive and if families fail to get insurance, they can be disqualified from future aid.

“Rising flood insurance premiums due to increased risk are really threatening to hinder our ability to deliver affordable housing to those in need,” said Andrew Bates with the Berea-based Federation for Appalachian Housing Enterprises.

The groups have other recommendations that urge Congress to fund better floodplain maps to assess future risks and adopt “nature-based” climate mitigation strategies by reclaiming mine land and reforesting logged areas.

Across Appalachian states including Kentucky, the climate is becoming warmer and wetter. Extreme rainfall events are becoming more intense, and more frequent as a result.

While it’s hard for climate scientists to determine the precise role that climate change plays in a single event like the 2022 floods in eastern Kentucky, they can say with certainty that these are the kinds of impacts that will become more common as the planet warms.

Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.

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