Wyden, Merkley press USDA to restore funding

WASHINGTON – Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Tuesday asked the U.S. Agriculture Department to restore recent payments the agency wrongly reduced for schools and counties under the Secure Rural Schools Act by more than $14 million. 

In their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Oregon senators cited reports that the agency withheld 6.2 percent of the resources intended for distribution under SRS to Oregon and other states. 

“The loss to schools and counties nationwide exceeds $14.0 million, with a substantial portion of that injury inflicted on our home state of Oregon,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “Absent a compelling legal justification, the sequestered funds should be immediately released and distributed as required by SRS.”

Wyden and Merkley pointed out in their letter that the federal Office of Management and Budget has offered clear guidance to the Agriculture Department that the recent SRS payments are not subject to sequestration.

The senators also noted the U.S. Forest Service – an agency within the Agriculture Department – has said for the better part of a year on its website that the payments were not subject to sequestration.

“We would like to know what your compelling legal rationale is to justify application of sequestration to the SRS payments in contravention of OMB’s decision,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “The funds previously withheld should be promptly forwarded for distribution to the schools and counties entitled to them pursuant to SRS.”

More than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states rely on SRS payments to fund schools and essential services like roads and public safety.

A copy of the entire letter is here.