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Oklahoma lawmakers approve disaster relief package to rebuild rural towns hit by tornadoes

Wreckage off Highway 123 in Barnsdall, Oklahoma is seen on the morning of Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
Elizabeth Caldwell
/
KWGS News
Wreckage off Highway 123 in Barnsdall, Oklahoma is seen on the morning of Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

Before ending a three-hour budget summit last Thursday, lawmakers agreed to convene for a Joint Committee for Appropriations and Budget, or JCAB, meeting Monday to produce a tornado relief package worth $45 million.

And after another budget summit early Monday, they did exactly that and approved two bills aimed at helping Oklahoma towns ravaged by recent tornadoes.

The measures approved were House Bills 2912 and 2913. One creates the “Disaster-impacted Local Economies Revolving Fund,” and the other appropriates $45 million to seed it with enough money for places like Sulphur, Barnsdall and other impacted communities to pay for rebuilding costs.

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, asked the only two questions before the bills passed unanimously:

  • What is the history of a disaster relief fund in Oklahoma?
  • Will the state continue to grow the fund? 

"I anticipate, unfortunately, that in the future there will be other cities, and municipalities in need of assistance," Bennett said. "So is this something that we're planning to grow?"
In response, House fiscal chair Kevin Wallace said the new fund is in addition to an existing money pool the Oklahoma Emergency Management office uses to match federal relief money, and that it will be state-funded as needed.

Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024 after covering race and equity as a Report For America corps member at Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Oklahoma City.