WKYT Investigates | What’s the status of high-profile EKY flood relief funds?

Millions of dollars have poured into multiple flood relief funds, both public and private. How have the donations been used?
Eastern Kentucky has long been considered a forgotten region, but the past year has proven that so many have pitched in along the way to help with flood recover
Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 10:17 AM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Eastern Kentucky has long been considered a forgotten region, but the past year has proven that so many have pitched in along the way to help with flood recovery.

Even one year later, donations continue to stream in, records show.

So where has the money gone to help?

WKYT Investigates looked into the finances of three high-profile relief funds to see how donations have been used and what’s next for the money that’s left.

Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund

The Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund was set up by Gov. Andy Beshear in the aftermath of the floods, much like was done following the western Kentucky tornadoes.

The following numbers are from public records kept by the Public Protection Cabinet, which is overseeing administration of the relief fund.

Summary through July 5:

  • Total donations: $13,372,564.68
  • Total payments: $5,388,279.79
  • Available cash balance: $7,984,284,89

Payments can be broken down further into two categories:

  • Victim payments: $5,195,500.00
  • Administrative costs: $192,779.79

Victim payments:

  • $4,030,500 for $500 supplemental checks to survivors who qualified for FEMA assistance
  • $440,000 for $10,000 checks to cover the costs of 44 funerals of flood victims
  • $725,000 for payments for homes for victims

Administrative costs:

  • $192,744.79 for fees to process online donations
  • $35 to process cancel checks (at $5/check)

More than $1 million has been committed to rebuilding homes and home repairs with nonprofit organizations Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Housing Development Alliance and Homes Inc., Kristin Voskuhl, a Public Protection Cabinet spokesperson, said in a written response to emailed questions.

To this point, seven homes partially paid for by the relief fund have have been built or are currently under construction, including four in Letcher County and one each in Breathitt, Knott and Perry counties, Voskuhl said.

“While there are a number of nonprofits providing assistance for flood survivors’ daily needs, housing remains the number one need in the area,” she said. “To address the need for safe, affordable housing located outside of the flood plain, the remaining Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief funds will be used to build homes in new high-ground communities.”

So far, three have been announced: One each in Knott, Letcher and Perry counties. Infrastructure and utility work is underway. In total, the three communities are expected to be home to about 250 families.

“The state continues to evaluate additional properties for high-ground building with more announcements expected soon,” Voskuhl said.

Last week, the state auditor’s office announced that it will conduct a special examination of the tornado and flood relief funds.

Detailed monthly records for the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund (as well as the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund) are available online here.

Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky

The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, a Hazard-based nonprofit community foundation established in 2009, works year-round with affiliate organizations in 15 mountain counties.

It has disbursed more than $9,403,095 in flood relief grants through the end of May, according to numbers provided by the nonprofit.

A breakdown:

  • $3,500,000 to the Housing Can’t Wait Initiative to build and repair homes in Breathitt, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties
  • $2,793,000 directly to 8,000 individual victims and families in 12 counties
  • $1,270,000 in grants to affiliates, long-term recovery groups and other nonprofits
  • $860,050 to 118 small businesses, nonprofits and social enterprises
  • $626,250 distributed to 18 Family Resource Centers at public schools
  • $553,795 to 346 small family farmers affected by flooding

“We have lots of people working, but so much devastation - it just can’t happen fast enough,” said Gerry Roll, CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky.

Roll said they, too, are holding onto a few million dollars specifically for housing efforts.

They’ll be able to build 57 houses in a high-ground community in Knott County. The goal is for substantial completion by March.

But even that is just a starting point for rebuilding efforts in the region.

“It’s going to take a very long time,” Roll said of recovery. “And we are hopeful and grateful that the rest of the nation and the world and the state will be with us as we continue to try to heal.”

Kentucky Rising Fund

The Kentucky Rising Fund, bolstered by a country music concert headlined by eastern Kentucky natives Chris Stapleton, Dwight Yoakam and Tyler Childers, raised roughly $4 million, according to the Blue Grass Community Foundation.

The fund is one of several flood relief efforts managed by the Blue Grass Community Foundation.

BGCF says it has disbursed about $1.9 million in flood relief grants so far to 33 different organizations in the middle of those efforts in eastern Kentucky.

Of that $1.9 million, $1.7 million came from the Kentucky Rising Fund and was granted to 15 organizations, said Jane Higgins, director of community advancement for the Blue Grass Community Foundation.

The advisers of the fund intentionally held back almost half of the money in the fund for long-term efforts.

“We all knew that this flood was not just going to be fixed in even a year’s time, right? This is going to be going on for a long time,” Higgins said. “They wanted to see at this point in time where are those dollars needed.”

Their conclusion was similar to that of the other charities: Housing.

“I’m working with the advisers of that fund now to get reports back from the grantees that we originally made some very large donations to,” Higgins said, “to work with other organizations and really to explore what those current needs are and what it’ll take to get the people back into their homes.”