Merkley Announces Key Wins for Rural America in Funding Agreement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today announced key appropriations wins for rural communities in the legislation that will fund the federal government through September. Merkley, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, contrasted the successes for rural communities with President Trump’s advocacy for deep cuts to programs that those communities rely on.

“This is a major victory for rural America,” Merkley said. “The president’s proposed budget was a ‘rural America last’ budget. At a time when many Americans are facing unprecedented challenges, Trump’s budget decimated critical programs.

“Trump’s budget proposal would have gutted Payments In Lieu of Taxes by $100 million and eliminated the $3 billion Community Development Block Grants program, stripping from Oregon counties critical funding for public safety, social services, transportation, housing and economic development. The Trump budget would have slashed programs, including Essential Air Service, that are vital to keep small, remote airports operating. It would have dramatically defunded programs to get doctors and other health care providers to rural communities. It would have ended grants for rural transportation projects; cut off rural entrepreneurs from loans; and pushed huge costs onto rural water system ratepayers.

“The House and Senate working to sustain these programs for fiscal year 2017 is a good sign for bipartisan support; a good sign for these programs’ continued funding in fiscal year 2018; and a significant rejection of Donald Trump’s vision for the direction of America. By working with the true champions for rural America in both parties, we successfully fought for the programs that give Oregonians and Americans from rural communities across the country a solid foundation for economic success.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Victories for rural communities in the 2017 omnibus bill include:

  • Agriculture programs were strengthened, adding $12.8 billion in support from 2016 levels. These include increased funding for water conservation programs in Central Oregon and the Farm Service and Rural Development agencies. These programs are important sources of investment in small-business growth and job creation, clean drinking water, and wildfire prevention.
  • The Payments In Lieu of Taxes program — funding for counties that have large tracts of federal lands that don’t generate property taxes — was fully funded at $465 million.
  • Community Development Block Grants were fully funded, keeping the $3 billion program.
  • The FAA Contract Tower program was fully funded, preserving a $159 million program that is vital to keeping six airport towers operating in Pendleton, Redmond, Troutdale, Aurora, Salem and Klamath Falls.
  • The Rural Housing Service received a $32.8 million funding increase, including a $15.3 million increase for rural rental assistance and a $4.4 million increase for housing vouchers.
  • A new housing pilot program was funded at $1 million to help nonprofits and housing authorities facilitate transfers to preserve rural affordable housing. Programs that address properties in danger of leaving the low-income housing program, depriving rural communities of affordable housing, were also funded.
  • The Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program was funded for the first time since fiscal year 2010 at $150 million, helping to protect Oregon’s spotted frogs and other endangered species, while also helping irrigators modernize their water infrastructure.
  • The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act that Merkley championed received additional funding, for a total $30 million in fiscal year 2017. That funding can be leveraged to provide more than $3 billion in low-cost loans to communities in need of water system upgrades or repairs.
  • The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was funded at $1.3 billion, providing nearly $390 million for programs that directly support small ports in Oregon.
  • Indian Health Service funding increased more than $230 million, allocating more than $5 billion for critical programs that help prevent suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse in tribal communities.