CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In a temporary pause from a testy election season, West Virginia lawmakers quickly passed a bill Monday addressing the state’s share of recovery costs from deadly floods in June.
The Senate’s 32-0 vote sends Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin a bill that sets aside $85 million for the state’s portion of the flood tab. The House easily passed the bill Sunday.
The June 23 floods killed 23 people and battered homes, businesses, schools and infrastructure. Tomblin’s administration has estimated flood-related damage costs will reach $339.8 million, ranging from Federal Emergency Management Agency housing help to rebuilding destroyed schools.
“I’m proud of the House and I’m proud of my colleagues in the Senate for not allowing this to become a political football,” said Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer.
FEMA will cover at least 75 percent of the costs. The agency said it will increase its cost share to 90 percent if the damage hits about $254 million. To meet that mark, however, FEMA needs more than just cost estimates. The $130 million or so needed to rebuild schools, for example, must be obligated through construction contracts, said Tomblin spokeswoman Jessica Tice.
Tice said that although the higher cost-share isn’t a guarantee, “FEMA has assured us that they stand ready to make the recommendation if and once the threshold is met.”
Of the $85 million included in the flood legislation, $55 million would come from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which has a $681.9 million balance. Those reserves have been tapped a few times in recent years to deal with state budget gaps stemming from the coal industry’s downturn and low natural gas prices.
The bill would also take $21 million in surplus lottery money and $9 million from surplus general revenue.
The administration’s estimated flood recovery costs include $88.8 million in FEMA aid to governments; $33.4 million in FEMA money for housing assistance for individuals and $6.5 million for other individual needs; $130 million for damage to schools; $1.6 million in direct federal aid; $32 million for stream cleanup; $37.5 million to lessen potential for future damages; and $10 million in other costs that the federal government can’t reimburse.
More than 8,800 households registered for FEMA aid.
But Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, offered no praise for the federal response Monday, since FEMA payouts were capped at $33,000 per household and only a couple hundred families received that amount. The average grant award is less than $9,000 per application, the Tomblin administration has said.
“We can send billions of dollars overseas, but when it comes to the federal government being there for our own people, they fell short,” Walters said. “We still have people living in tents in Kanawha County.”
Separately, the governor has asked President Barack Obama for an additional $310 million in a congressional bill to fuel West Virginia’s long-term economic recovery and community rebuilding. He’s hoping to tack it onto any congressional action to set aside money to help Louisiana after that state’s deadly floods.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking Obama for $2.8 billion in aid after floods killed at least 13 people and damaged more than 84,000 homes in that state, many in the Baton Rouge area. More than 180,000 people there have registered for disaster aid.
Tomblin called the West Virginia special session that began Sunday. Lawmakers are expected to finish the session Tuesday.