September 20, 2016

Crapo, Risch, Wyden Call for Immediate Action on County Payment Funding

Crapo, Risch, Wyden Call for Immediate Action on County Payment Funding

WASHINGTON - Citing the drain on many rural county budgets, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, along with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) have sent a bipartisan letter to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) calling for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) in any year-end legislation likely to be signed into law.  The letter to McConnell and Reid was led by Crapo and Montana Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana).

SRS payments are vital to many rural budgets as these payments often pay for school programs and personnel like nurses, and for other education services.  The SRS program expired on September 30, 2015 and final payments were received by schools in March of 2016.  As a result of these stopped payments, county budgets being stretched thin among competing priorities.

"The federal government has an obligation to pay counties for tax-exempt, federally-managed lands within their jurisdictions," said Crapo.  "Without reauthorization of SRS, counties across the nation will be without funding for local schools, roads, bridges, forest management projects and public safety priorities."

"Until we see a significant increase in active forest management on our national forests, the federal government must uphold its commitment to support our rural counties and schools who rely on the SRS program," said Senator Risch. 

"SRS is a critical lifeline for our rural places," Wyden said. "It provides counties with resources on the front lines for all kinds of services communities just can't do without - from education to first responders  to law enforcement and libraries. I'm working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide these vital resources to our counties as soon as possible."

The letter is also signed by Senators Risch (R-Idaho), Daines (R-Montana), Wyden (D-Oregon), Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Bennet (D-Colorado), Warner (D-Virginia), Boxer (D-California), Cantwell (D-Washington), Donnelly (D-Indiana), Feinstein (D-California), Franken (D-Minnesota), Gardner (R-Colorado), Udall (D-New Mexico), Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Thune (R-South Dakota), Sullivan (R-Alaska), Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), McCain (R-Arizona), McCaskill (D-Missouri), Merkley (D-Oregon), Stabenow (D-Michigan), Murray (D-Washington), Nelson (D-Florida), Peters (Michigan), Rounds (R-South Dakota), Sanders (D-Vermont), and Boozman (R-Arkansas).  

Text of the letter to Senator's McConnell and Reid follows:

The Honorable Mitch McConnell Majority Leader
United  States Senate
U.S Capitol Building, Room: S-230
Washington , DC 20510

The Honorable Harry Reid Minority Leader
United States Senate
U.S. Capitol Building, Room: S-221
Washington , DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Reid,

As the 114th Congress comes to an end, counties and school districts across the United States are reducing their budgets and facing significant shortfalls because the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) has not been reauthorized.  Accordingly, it is critical that a retroactive extension of this important program be included in an appropriate legislative vehicle likely to be signed into law before the end of the year.

The SRS program expired on September 30, 2015 and in March of 2016 the last authorized payments to forest counties and schools under SRS were distributed by the federal government.  School districts across the country are beginning this school year with fewer school nurses, and reduced arts, music and other student educational services.  Counties are reducing road and county service budgets. This affects the health and welfare of everyone who lives in or visits these counties.

Today, we write to express our deep hope that SRS will be reauthorized for FY 2016 and beyond and to express our willingness to support efforts to do so.  The SRS program provides crucial support to forest counties, local schools, transportation infrastructure, law enforcement, fire and safety, and other county services in more than 720 counties and 4,000 school districts, impacting nine million students in 41 states. 

According to the National Association of Counties, when the authorization for SRS lapsed in FY 2014, forest payments to counties decreased by over 80 percent.  Counties and school districts nationwide faced dramatic budgetary shortfalls. Many began preparations to halt infrastructure projects, terminate employees, cancel teacher contracts, and reduce numerous other critical local services.  In that instance, Congress reauthorized the SRS program retroactively.  However, in many cases services had already been impacted in counties and school districts.

The SRS program continues to be a critical safety-net for forest counties as we work to diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies.  We urge you to work in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize the SRS program for FY 2016 and into the future.  We stand ready to work with you in support of this important program.


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