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Why FEMA denied funds to help Eastern Kentucky flood victim rebuild

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Posted at 10:53 AM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 12:04:02-04

BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Like countless others, James and Karen Deaton lost their Breathitt County home in the late July flooding.

"Now I get emotional," James Keaton said. "I've lived there for 80 years."

To rebuild, they were counting on receiving funding from FEMA.

FEMA funding to rebuild isn't coming because the Deaton's hadn’t bought flood insurance after a 2009 storm, according to their daughter Jill Hatton.

“My road (referring to his driveway) washed out really bad,” James Deaton said. “So I asked for money to fix that.”

FEMA provided them with about $2,000 dollars in 2009 and paid for a few years of flood insurance. But, Hatton said, it came with a caveat; in order to receive FEMA relief if disaster struck in the future, they’d need to get their own flood insurance and maintain it.

That wouldn't be an option, Deaton said, because flood insurance would be too expensive. Hatton, who has experience as an insurance agent, said her parents live on a fixed income of $30,000 a year. Flood insurance would cost them $18,000 a year, she said.

"People in that area can't afford flood insurance," Hatton said. "It's 10 times more expensive than homeowners' insurance."

Over time, Deaton forgot about the money they received from FEMA in the 2009 storm.

Hatton, who filed the paperwork with FEMA to get assistance this year, showed LEX 18 documents that showed they have been approved to receive about $2,000. Most of it was for rental assistance, and none of it was to physically rebuild their home.

"When FEMA said no it knocked the breath out of me, I thought what are they doing?" Deaton said.

The documents didn't say why they were denied more money, Hatton had to place multiple calls to FEMA to find out.

During a teleconference Thursday, LEX 18 asked about the rules that would impact Deaton's situation.

"I can't speak specifically to that case," said Brett Howard, a federal coordinating officer with FEMA. "But, if they were in a past disaster and FEMA paid out a claim, and they were, for example, residing in a flood plane, then when we paid the claim, we also paid three years of flood insurance. They were required to obtain and maintain for as long as they live there. Yes, that's a requirement, if that's what we're talking about here, there is a requirement to obtain and maintain insurance if we paid a claim in the past."

Many people we've spoken with who have lost their homes in the flooding told us they don't have flood insurance because it's too expensive.

When asked what message he wants to share with those people, Howard responded, "That is a really tough question. We can only do as much as we can here from the federal government. Hopefully, they can reach out to the community at large, and the Commonwealth and the nonprofits with the services available here in Kentucky to obtain the funds needed to maintain that flood insurance."

Howard said the expectation after the three years is that the whole community could assist after that.

Deaton believes FEMA should get rid of the rule.

"It would help a lot of people including us," he said.

Hatton thought the rule doesn't make any sense.

FEMA told the Deatons their house was knocked off its' foundation and will need to be torn down. Even though they are appealing FEMA's decision, he's resigned to the fact more money isn't coming, meaning they will never rebuild. Instead, he's already planning to move into a trailer with his disabled wife Karen, who is 75 and gets around in a wheelchair.

FEMA denied their request for medical assistance, too, Hatton said.

"I don't know what FEMA's about if they can't help people," Deaton said.