In a bid to expand access and reach more people in need, FEMA has opened seven disaster recovery centers in flood-ravaged areas of eastern Kentucky.
The centers are one-stop facilities where people can file FEMA claims, replace drivers licenses, and apply for unemployment assistance or SNAP benefits.
Officials at the locations now have the authority to approve individual assistance claims on site, a new development. Gov. Andy Beshear said he hoped this would speed the process.
“This is a big deal. You can probably get your claim approved right there on the table at the disaster recovery center. They have the capacity to see people, much more than the amount of people actually coming in to apply,” Beshear said during a news conference on Monday.
Beshear said FEMA needs to approve more people for individual assistance, but that the federal agency has had trouble getting in contact with people. According to the governor, FEMA has tried to call 4,006 aid applicants, but only 1,508 have picked up.
To reach more flood victims in need of assistance in remote areas, FEMA has introduced a text messaging service to reach out to people who have been denied or have not heard back about their claims.
Beshear said rescue efforts have largely concluded and that rebuilding efforts would soon begin, but would take more than a year.
There are still 4,700 households without water across the region. Beshear said 56 state and county bridges need to be replaced and another 52 need repairs.
The governor said he is still considering a special legislative session for lawmakers to pass a flooding relief package. He said he plans to model the legislation on the bill that passed after last year’s deadly tornadoes in western Kentucky.
“I believe it will happen. Everybody is committed to it and my hope is we can see one in the next four weeks and it all depends on how quickly we can come to an agreement,” Beshear said.
The death toll from the floods stands at 39 and two people are still unaccounted for.