Lawmakers aim to secure federal money for Oregon

WASHINGTON — As work was concluding on a funding bill to keep the government operating, and avoid a shutdown, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, along with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, each announced funding packages designed to help Oregon communities on Thursday.

First off, all three lawmakers participated in a move to include a two-year extension of Secure Rural Schools program. This will fund things such as roads, schools and law enforcement in rural counties, according to a joint news release from the three lawmakers.

The Secure Rural School program was designed to replace money lost to counties with the decline of timber sales, and receipts which the counties shared in.

While Malheur County gets only a small amount from the program, counties with a lot of timber rely heavily on these funds to provide services.

According to estimates posted on the SRS website, Malheur County is to receive $583 for its 2018 payment. In Idaho, Washington County was to receive $3,441.

By contrast Lane County is to receive an estimated $1.6 million.

“This extension of Secure Rural Schools payments is a crucial part of what must be full-court press to shore up our rural communities in Oregon,” Wyden said.

“Providing two years of Secure Rural School funding is critical for providing essential county services that our communities in Oregon rely on every day,” Walden said.

Another program that Wyden and Merkley said they were able to get funded was TIGER grants which are used to improve transportation infrastructure including roads, railways, transit sytems, airports and ports. The grant program is being funded at $1.5 billion.

Greg Smith, Malheur County Economic Development Director, said he may be applying for a TIGER grant to expand the funding for the Treasure Valley Reload Center project in Malheur County.

That money would be used to develop other related projects, such as developing industrial sites.

In a separate release issued Thursday, Merkley, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture subcommittee, announced funding for grants promoting research and education and sustainable agriculture has been increased to $35 million. Funding for agriculture research was one of the concern expressed during the senator’s town hall at Jordan Valley.

In addition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be funded at $874 million for increased funding for agriculture conservation programs.