Quick Takes

Kentucky Senate approves bill to get report on donated disaster relief funds

By: - February 22, 2023 9:15 pm

Stacey Feezor plays with her niece Delilah Jenkins, 6, outside her camper at Camp Graves where she lives with her family in transitional housing after losing everything in the December 2021 tornado, Friday, November 18, 2022 in Graves County, Kentucky. (Julia Rendleman for Kentucky Lantern)

FRANKFORT — The Senate passed a piece of legislation from a Western Kentucky lawmaker that seeks answers to how donated disaster relief funds have been spent so far. 

A committee substitute version of Senate Bill 99 passed 33-2 Wednesday. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, said on the floor that he filed the bill after a Hopkinsville resident reached out to him saying he erroneously received a $1,000 relief check. 

Westerfield previously told the Kentucky Lantern that the bill would apply to both the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund and Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund.

On the floor, the senator said he didn’t fault Gov. Andy Beshear and his administration for creating the funds but questioned their constitutionality as they are not within the legislative branch’s oversight, which includes state dollars. 

“There’s not a member up here from the far right to the far left to the middle that’s going to oppose fundraising for people that are hurt in natural disaster areas, but what happens when the cause is something that only half of us like?” 

The bill calls on the Public Protection Cabinet to provide a report to the Legislative Research Commission by the end of the fiscal year, which is the end of June, over the specifics of how donated disaster relief funds have been spent so far, who’s made the decisions over the funds and what mechanisms are in place to prevent fraud, among other questions. 

The report the proposed legislation would require would also extend to analyzing other disbursements from the tornado relief fund, such as about $12 million given for individual unmet needs and life essentials. 

The nays were from Democratic Senators Gerald Neal of Louisville and Reginald Thomas of Lexington. 

After the passage, the Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement:

“It appears bipartisanship is alive in Frankfort, at least when it comes to investigating the blunders of the Beshear Administration,” RPK spokesman Sean Southard said. “Private individuals and corporations stepped up to assist Western Kentucky recover from those tornadoes, which brought tragedy and devastation to our state, and the governor and his team sent an untold amount of money to people unaffected by the tornadoes. As of today, we still don’t know how much money went to the wrong people. We applaud the Senate for holding Andy accountable and seeking more transparency into how he’s used his slush fund.”

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.