A state-run fund intended to provide relief for those affected by the deadly tornados that struck Western Kentucky in December 2021 has sent an unknown amount of money to people who were unaffected by the disaster and never even filed claims.
The Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, started by Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration following the disaster, issued more than 10,000 checks in $1,000 increments — more than $10 million — in Dec. 2022 and mailed them to households supposedly affected by the storms, the Lexington Herald-Leader first reported Wednesday.
The Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet (PPC), which issued the checks for the fund, as well as the Kentucky state treasurer’s office, began receiving calls shortly after from people across the state saying they were issued checks in error.
The office of Republican State Treasurer Allison Ball, who has been critical of Beshear’s handling of the fund, subsequently canceled payment on 184 of the checks, but it’s unclear how many more checks may have been sent to the wrong people.
‘My office had to cancel at least $192,000 of tornado relief checks that Governor Beshear’s administration erroneously sent to individuals not impacted by the tornadoes,’ Ball told Fox News Digital. ‘His staff has made it clear they have no way to determine how many more checks were sent incorrectly.’
‘I have been concerned about Governor Beshear’s lack of transparency for these funds from the beginning — they operate like an executive branch Go-Fund Me account without auditing or even appropriation from the state legislature. These erroneous payments simply highlight the concerns that I’ve had the whole time about the accountability and transparency of these funds meant to benefit tornado victims,’ she added.
The PPC didn’t comment on the possibility that more of the checks could have been sent in error, but instead told the Herald-Leader that ‘there are various reasons checks are returned,’ including changes of address, incorrect names on checks, or possible fraud.
The organization also wouldn’t say how many of the 184 checks had been issued due to possible fraud, but pointed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or individual insurance companies as the source of the names and addresses where they sent the checks.
PPC official Kristin Voskuhl echoed that claim in a statement to Fox News Digital. ‘No checks were sent to anyone who was not on a FEMA or private insurance list,’ she said.
‘All check recipients have been identified as tornado victims by insurance companies or FEMA. That means that they were identified by FEMA and insurance companies as having been verified through their systems and received payments through the entities,’ Voskuhl said.
FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad, however, told the Herald-Leader that his agency identified 27% of applications for funds following the tornado as possibly fraudulent, were deemed ineligible for payment, and wouldn’t have been on the list of recipients sent to the PPC.
Kentucky Republicans were quick to respond to the report, accusing Beshear of using the fund for political benefit.
‘This reporting raises questions about how Governor Beshear and his leadership team have been using the Team Kentucky Fund,’ Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Sean Southard said in a statement. ‘A better name for this fund would be ‘Governor Beshear’s Slush Fund.’’
‘Private individuals and corporations stepped up to assist Western Kentucky recover from those tornadoes, which brought tragedy and devastation to our state, and the Beshear administration has just been sending out checks willy-nilly. They can’t even tell us how many checks from Beshear’s Slush Fund went to the wrong people. How did they decide who got them?’ he added.
Fox News Digital reached out to Beshear’s office for comment, but was directed to his responses to questions at a press gaggle Wednesday in which he echoed the PPC’s claim that FEMA and insurance companies provided the individuals to receive the checks.
‘Sadly, none of these systems are perfect,’ he said, before dismissing the GOP’s criticism.