West Virginia Governor, Still Hoping for More Federal Help, Signs Flood Relief Bill

by | September 21, 2016

By Jake Jarvis

Only a day after approval in the West Virginia Senate, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday signed into law a flood relief bill that provides $85 million for recovery from the late-June floods, an amount he said will ensure the state meets its obligation to cover 25 percent of the cost of repairs.

Joined at Elkview Middle School by Republican leaders, Tomblin said the supplemental appropriation, of which more than half comes from the state's Rainy Day funds, might not all be used.

"I'm very hopeful that the federal government will change the match rate from 25 percent to 10 percent, which will save us millions of dollars in West Virginia," Tomblin said. "We're going to use our 25 percent match up front, and then they'll make a determination later and refund us, if they lower our match rate."

As it stands now, the state has to pay for 25 percent of all the direct damages from the floods, with the federal government footing the remaining 75 percent.

To qualify for a lower match rate, the disaster must result in at least $253 million in damages. State officials estimate that the total damages will cost about $339 million.

Lowering the match rate is considered on a case-by-case basis and requires approval from the president, Tomblin said.

The $85 million appropriation is comprised of $55 million from the state's Rainy Day funds, $21 million in unappropriated state Lottery funds and $9 million that was not spent in the recently ended 2015-16 state budget year.

Last week, Tomblin requested an additional $310 million from Congress' Community Development Block Grant to fund specific long-term recovery projects across the state. This money, if approved, would go above and beyond the federal cost-sharing program to repair direct damages from the floods, said Jessica Tice, a spokeswoman from the Governor's Office.

The RISE West Virginia grant program already has given out about $970,000 to small businesses that employ 684 people across the state, Tomblin said.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer and a candidate for governor, joined Tomblin in praising the Legislature for moving "uncharacteristically quickly" to pass HB 201.

"As I traveled from Clendenin to White Sulphur [Springs] and back after the flooding, I was taken by the strength of West Virginians," Cole said. "There were neighbors helping neighbors and, I'll tell you, I've never been more proud to be a West Virginian."

Signing the bill at Elkview Middle was not by chance, Tomblin said. He wanted students there to see that the state's leaders care about them and what they have endured.

Since the start of the school year last month, students from the destroyed Herbert Hoover High have shared the Elkview Middle facility, with students of Elkview Middle going to class in the morning and the Hoover students in the afternoon until portable classrooms can be brought in.

Of the total $339 million estimated for repairs, $130 million will go toward building five new schools: Herbert Hoover High, Clendenin Elementary, Richwood High, Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle.

"This flooding has been one of the biggest challenges of my administration, but the response has been among the brightest spots," Tomblin said. "So it is only fitting that this may very well be the final bill I sign as your governor."

(c)2016 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)