SALYERSVILLE – Governor Andy Beshear met with local leaders on Thursday, April 29, discussing FEMA funding available and bringing a large check for upcoming Magoffin County roadwork.
Governor Beshear was in Eastern Kentucky, visiting Floyd, Magoffin and Breathitt Counties, three of the counties that were affected by the February 27 and March 14 flooding and mudslides. Beshear was encouraging individuals and business owners to apply for federal recovery aid and individual assistance, which is rarely available.
While he was in Salyersville, Beshear, who is used to being interviewed by the press, had a special interview with two Salyersville Grade School sixth graders, Lyndsey Wireman and Sophie Johnston, reports with the SGS Eagle News production, who represented their school and Magoffin County well.
Magoffin County Judge/Executive Matt Wireman opened the meeting, stating, “As county judge in my first term, I know what it’s like to try to lead during these crazy times, and I can’t imagine the pressure this man is under, but what I’ve seen and what I continue to see is it’s not personal politics decision making. It’s data-driven decision making, and that’s what I believe in.”
Beshear, who hasn’t been able to visit the county publicly since the pandemic started, opened with saying, “How good is it to do this in person?”
The governor acknowledged that it has been a tough 14 months of sacrifice and loss.
“Our lives have been upended and we’ve had to worry about our children,” Beshear said. “We’re here today with good news and how good does it feel to have good news?”
He said the last 14 months were plagued with worry and uncertainty, but the next 14 months will be filled with excitement.
“We have to start by recognizing the pain,” Beshear said. “The pain we’ve been through over 14 months, where we’ve lost over 6,400 Kentuckians to this deadly virus. That wasn’t all you all have had to experience in Magoffin County. It was not just a pandemic, but it was snow and ice and record flooding. We were hit in late February by not just record, truly historic flooding, the likes of which most of us had never seen and I’m not sure the ground had even dried out by that point. The damage was intense and widespread, but you know that. You lived it. It hit homes and it hit businesses. There’s nothing more serious and nothing more Kentucky than how we show up and respond in our times of need.”
Beshear noted that when he talked to other governors and people throughout the country and they asked why he’s so certain that Kentucky is the greatest place to live, he said, “It’s how we show up for one another. In difficult times, we’re there. If any of the disasters that we’ve been through hit anywhere else in the country, you would see major loss of life. You’d see people struggling more. The special part about us is in times of difficulty, we put any division aside and we show up for each other because we know the life and the health of our neighbor is so much more important than anything else we might have argued about.”
The governor said that when the rain started pouring on February 28, the judge/executive, magistrates and emergency management officials jumped into action, noting that they are a great group of individuals, not only helping the community, but also reaching out to the state for more assistance. He said his office immediately started reaching out to the president, the federal government and FEMA, to let them know the scope of the devastating flooding.
“What we saw at the end of last week was nothing short of amazing,” Beshear said, taking about the announcement of individual assistance for flood victims. “It wasn’t just the large number of counties that got public assistance, meaning our roads and our infrastructure. You know how those floods just wash out a road we put tens of thousands of dollars into, and we’re going to get help from the federal government for that.”
He said this was one of the only times in our lifetime and definitely the first time in the last 10 years the state was granted individual assistance for a long list of counties, including Magoffin.
“I’m grateful this president, and it was his decision, alone, said not only does he care about Kentucky, but he cares about Eastern Kentucky and he cares about Magoffin County,” Beshear said, noting that often Kentucky, and especially in more remote areas like Eastern Kentucky, are often l forgotten by the federal government, leaving people feeling alone during these types of crises.
“Because of that decision, individual homeowners here that have been able to document their damage are going to be able to apply for between $30,000 and $40,000 to help pay off those debts, to help rebuild, and to help get their lives back on track.”
Beshear said that $72 million-worth of damage has been documented from that flooding and currently FEMA has completed only 25% of the assessment for Magoffin County.
He explained that at the moment (going by FEMA’s assessments), Magoffin has 26 major damage events to individual families, 46 minor damage events, but said the number of people that will be helped by this funding is going to continue to grow.
Once the presidential disaster declaration was made, Beshear said it took a day for a portal to be made for people to apply online for assistance at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA, or for hearing and speech impaired 1-800-462-7585.
Governor Beshear also stated that brighter days are ahead, noting that nearly $1 billion has been authorized to help Magoffin and other counties with water and sewer projects, broadband expansion and rebuilding our schools that need it the most. He said Kentucky will be adding 14,500 jobs with these projects.
He also noted that in April he was also able to announce $23 million to improve highway safety near schools across the state.
Beshear presented a check of $761,257, out of $5 million state discretionary funding for roadways, to improve a dozen Magoffin County roads. He explained the county judge sent the roads into the state for funding and state representatives pushed for the local allocations.
Senior Advisor Rocky Adkins, who works three offices down from the governor but lives in Eastern Kentucky, explained that they are always looking at ways to boost the state’s economy, building infrastructure to bring in more business and opportunity.
Adkins also commended Representative John Blanton for making sure language “in underserved and unserved areas” was included in legislation for allocating funding for water and sewer, broadband expansions, and more to make sure every house in Kentucky is connected.
He also commended Judge/Executive Matt Wireman for his leadership, fighting for assistance for local people.
Adkins explained that Beshear has visited Eastern Kentucky more than any other region since he has been governor.
“We’re working every day, every day, to build that future of hope an opportunity,” Adkins said. “For people to be able to put food on the table and a roof over their head.”
While the visit was to discuss the federal and state funding made available recently to Magoffin, Beshear did take the opportunity to encourage everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Fourteen months after our very first case, we have safe and effective vaccines and more than half of Kentucky adults have been vaccinated and that is a miracle,” Beshear said. We are blessed and that has never happened before. Both our scientists, our public health officials and I believe our God has been there for us during this very difficult time. This is a blessing. We rarely see vaccines this effective. With the Pfizer vaccine just being proven more effective in the field than it was in the trials. We’ve seen death and serious illness almost eliminated, even to our most vulnerable. These things are a gift and to fully defeat this virus, we need everybody to step up and take their shot of hope.”
He acknowledged that while people who would get the vaccine because he encouraged it have probably already signed up, but he asked everyone else to talk to their doctors and people they trust in their own community.