EDITORIAL: No further politics, in times of disaster

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

This past week, a rare, late-season tornado outbreak hit the southeastern United States, with one of the massive funnels traveling 250 miles and striking four states, killing more than 80 people.

Particularly hard hit was the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, where 74 are confirmed dead and, in the city of Maysfield alone, 50-70 people are dead or missing.

Many communities in the state were entirely obliterated and thousands were left homeless. President Joe Biden is set to visit the state today and has pledged that those impacted by the storms will get “whatever they need, when they need it.”
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a Republican and the leader of his party in the chamber praised Biden for his rapid response to the storms and for immediately issuing a disaster declaration for devastated areas.

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In the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, Kentucky’s lawmakers sent a letter to Biden, rightly seeking aid from the federal government to begin the rebuilding efforts and help those impacted.

However, two signatures on that letter raised some eyebrows.

First was U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the state’s junior senator and a Republican.

In 2017, when a disaster relief bill was before the Senate for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico and wildfires in California, Paul opposed the aid package.

“People here will say they have great compassion and they want to help the people of Puerto Rico, the people of Texas, the people of Florida, but notice they have great compassion with someone else’s money,” he lectured the chamber from in a floor speech.

Paul insisted that cuts come elsewhere from the budget before the aid was approved.

Yet, cut to this week and Paul joined others in requesting aid, requesting that it be done in an “expeditious” manner.
Convenient, now that the disaster is one in his home state, Paul also is no longer telling lawmakers that the country spends too much and demanding it be offset by budget cuts.

And Paul is not alone among Kentucky lawmakers suddenly doing a 180 turn on on disaster aid.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican whose northeast Kentucky district covers Ashland, fancies himself a libertarian and has, in the past, voted against aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, for the east coast, in 2013, and Hurricane Harvey.

Yet, this week, Massie was among Kentucky’s lawmakers seeking aid for the tornadoes.

Despite their previous record of being two of the biggest obstructionists to disaster relief for others, Paul and Massie were right to call for aid for Kentucky in its time of need. But it is sad that it takes a disaster in their own state for them to realize the need after such devastation.

While many politicians often rail against “big government” for easy points, the fact is, agencies such as FEMA exist for situations exactly like this, ensuring that there is a large scale response that can be mobilized.

Given that Paul and Massie have illustrated that such spending is needed, let us hope that when disasters occur in areas outside of their states’ borders in the future, they may learn from this experience and be less willing to obstruct requests for federal aid.

It is far too dangerous to play politics when the welfare of so many hang in the balance and we hope that perhaps we will see less of that in the future on these matters.

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How to help Kentucky

In addition to state and federal relief for Kentucky, private donations will also be needed.

The state’s governor, Andy Beshear, has announced the establishment of the Team Western Kentucky Relief Fund, where money raised will go directly to victims, with no administrative fees taken out. Donations can be made at teamwkyrelieffund.ky.gov or mailed to Public Protection Cabinet, 500 Mero St., 218 NC, Frankfort, KY 40601 – note donation to “Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.”

The American Red Cross is also seeking blood donations in the aftermath of the storms. To find a location to donate, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/eligibility-requirements.html.