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Beshear signs disaster-aid measure into law

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Gov. Andy Beshear signed into law on Thursday a bill providing emergency relief to the areas of western Kentucky that were ravaged by an outbreak of tornadoes, flooding and other severe weather, Dec. 10-11.

Both chambers gave final action on Wednesday to legislation that establishes the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies, or SAFE Fund, with $200 million. Of that amount, $155 million would go into the SAFE Fund for future allocation.

A total of $30 million will go to the Kentucky Department of Education for such things as wrap-around services to students and families, transportation costs to classes for students having to temporarily live in other counties, and repairs to school buildings.

Another $15 million is designated for the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, Division of Emergency Management to be used for procuring temporary FEMA-eligible housing units.

Before signing the measure, the governor 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. I'm here to celebrate a bipartisan piece of legislation we all know is just the first that's going to be needed to free up resources right now, not when the fiscal year starts, to support these western Kentucky families."

The sponsors of the House and Senate versions of the bill also spoke during the State Capitol press conference.

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, whose hometown was one of those devastated by a tornado, thanked the governor for his quick response. "I was on the phone with him within hours after the tornado passed through Mayfield. He was on the ground within 36 hours after the tornado passed, and he's been back multiple times."

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, also expressed his gratitude, adding this reassurance to those who were affected, "This is just the first allocation from this fund. There will be more as we figure out what the immediate needs are."

The legislation, House Bill 5, contained an emergency clause, meaning it went into effect as soon as Gov. Beshear signed it, so money can start flowing to those communities immediately.

During the press conference, the governor gave a preview of one item he will include during his budget address to deal with disaster relief.

"For the first budget in our history, we include dollars to respond to those disasters," he said. "A $100 million disaster relief and recovery fund. That will let us expend dollars quickly, have it already budgeted in our system, and we've already seen how people need help, and need it right away. This makes that more possible."

His budget address will be at 7 p.m., Eastern Time, tonight and will be broadcast statewide on KET.

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