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U.S. to help on Guard tab

FRANKFORT — The federal government will pick up most of the cost of employing the Kentucky National Guard to help during last month's ice storm, U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday during a visit to Kentucky.

The move is a boon for the cash-strapped state, which is struggling with a nearly half-billion dollar shortfall.

Gov. Steve Beshear deployed 4,000 Kentucky National Guard troops to help clear debris and do door-to-door wellness checks after the storm, which wiped out power to 769,353 customers at its peak and claimed 32 lives.

Typically, states pay all National Guard costs associated with emergencies, Napolitano said. But because of the severity of the storm, Napolitano said the federal government will pick up 75 percent of those costs.

Col. Phil Miller of the Kentucky National Guard said it was too soon to say how much the National Guards' deployment will cost because troops are still working in local communities.

Napolitano's comments came during a briefing at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort on Tuesday. After the briefing, Napolitano traveled to Paducah with Beshear to see recovery efforts. Kentucky was Napolitano's first stop in a three-day tour of various disaster areas.

President Barack Obama has already granted a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, making the state and more than 90 local governments eligible for federal reimbursement of up to 75 percent of costs associated with the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also provided food, water and generators for more than 50 water utility districts that lost power and the ability to provide drinkable water.

Beshear had also requested that the federal government consider paying 100 percent of the costs for the first seven days after the storm.

Napolitano, a two-term former governor of Arizona, said Tuesday that the request has been expedited and is still being considered. "I also understand the budget situation of the state," Napolitano said. "In these unusual circumstances, states are particularly hard-hit because their revenues are down."

Napolitano praised Beshear's handling of the storm, and he returned the favor.

Napolitano and Nancy Ward, acting head of FEMA, were involved with Kentucky's storm response from the beginning, Beshear said.

"Because of their personal involvement, we cut through red tape faster than I've ever seen it cut through before," Beshear said. "The response that we got was overwhelming and very, very rapid."

Also on Tuesday, Beshear said the state would hire private contractors to help remove debris in areas not being covered by city or county crews or other private contractors hired by local governments. Beshear said the move will expedite debris removal. The Transportation Cabinet will be paying the private contractors in anticipation of 75 percent federal reimbursement, Beshear said.