FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear complained Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is denying too many requests for assistance in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky, and urged those getting turned down to take their cases directly to agency representatives in the region.
Offering the mantra of “appeal, appeal and appeal,” Beshear told people applying for disaster aid: “Number one, do not give up. Number two, if you’re denied, go and look these people in the eye.”
A FEMA spokesman later said the agency “will get this right,” acknowledging the “bureaucracy can be frustrating.” Agency personnel are meeting with residents to help with applications for aid and documentation submissions, the spokesman said.
Beshear accompanied President Joe Biden during a visit to the stricken Appalachian region Monday, when the president declared the federal government would provide support until residents were back on their feet. The governor said Thursday he was grateful for the swift federal response to the catastrophic flash flooding late last month and the deployment of FEMA officials. Surging waters swept away homes, inundated communities and led to at least 38 deaths.
But the Democratic governor flatly said “we need to see better outcomes” for more eastern Kentuckians applying to FEMA for recovery assistance.
“Too many people are being denied,” Beshear said at a news conference. “Not enough people are being approved. And this is the time that FEMA’s got to get it right. To change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars and to get it right here.”
FEMA press secretary Jeremy Edwards later responded that agency officials will be in the flood-stricken region “as long as it takes” to help Kentuckians recover.
“We know these are incredibly difficult times, and we want to help you,” Edwards said in a statement. “We will continue to work to ensure that every eligible applicant receives every dollar of assistance legally possible.”
The governor, who is running for reelection next year, has experience shepherding disaster recovery. In December, deadly tornadoes devastated several western Kentucky towns.
Beshear said he didn’t yet have figures reflecting the percentage of aid applications being denied by FEMA in eastern Kentucky. The agency has promised those numbers, he said, along with data showing why people were denied.
The governor and a Kentucky lawmaker from the hard-hit region offered examples of people in dire straits being denied assistance or offered inadequate aid.