Intense rainfall made its way through Kentucky in late July, causing disastrous flash flooding that left at least 39 dead and displacing hundreds of others. It was the first time the state had ever experienced flash flooding of this magnitude.
The Biden administration signed off on a major disaster declaration in July and directed federal aid to be used for recovery efforts, including funding for shelter and food – and amended it in August to increase the level of funding.
On Tuesday, Kentucky’s Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Twitter that FEMA approved more than 2,000 applications that were "originally denied" aid, adding: "There is still more work to do, but this is great progress as we push to ensure everything possible is being done to support our families affected by the devastating flooding."
Beshear said one major problem is that many homeowners don't have flood insurance, which is rare for people living outside of high-risk areas like Florida. According to FEMA's National Risk Index, the state is classified as low risk in every weather category.
Anne Bink, an associate administrator at the FEMA Office of Response and Recovery told Spectrum News that "One of the biggest things is missing documentation. And in this instance, there are some cases where folks may not have any documentation at all," Bink said. "One of the recent policy changes we've implemented as of last hurricane season is related to expanding the types of documentation that allow for eligibility for occupancy, and ownership." Bink oversees FEMA's response, recovery, logistics, and field operations nationwide.
"We want to work with every survivor and resident of this community to ensure that if they don't have the documentation they need, we can gather it for them and help them or we can receive an attestation worst-case scenario, meaning there are many options available to gather the documentation that is required for the program to ensure that we can get the cash assistance so folks can build back," Bink said.
Bink said the agency's Disaster Survivor Assistance teams are on "the ground, walking through neighborhoods." She said that Disaster Survivor Assistance teams have been "paired with program experts from headquarters that typically don't deploy to the field to make sure that residents not only get all the information they need to get them eligible, but what they know what’s next for them.”
When asked what FEMA is doing to contact people without cell service, Bink replied, "We're deploying our door-to-door resources directly to folks ... we're using data to make sure that if we haven't reached someone after three attempts, that we're getting folks out there directly to knock on doors and get to them.”
FEMA has seen a number of challenges in terms of their response to the flooding, Bink said, including "lots of valleys, lots of properties near creeks near rivers that clearly rose beyond their banks" and "some flood gauges go to 20-to-30 feet flood stage," which she said was “unprecedented."
"If you've registered, and you find that one category of assistance or more you are not yet approved for, please call us, we're also attempting to reach out to you to ensure that you get all the assistance you can to really jumpstart your recovery and get back on your feet,” said Bink.
On Tuesday FEMA announced it also offering a one-time $500 payment for critical services to people who have been displaced by the flood. Those funds can be used for things like food, water, prescriptions and baby supplies.
Bink urged all state and local tribal and territorial governments to prepare for disasters in the future by participating in the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program offered by FEMA.