Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic is one more reason that payments to counties under the Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs should be prioritized in a year-ending appropriations bill.
“In order to assist these rural counties’ response to the current public health crisis, as well as to invest in infrastructure, schools, and law enforcement, Congress must include a reauthorization of SRS,” Wyden and Merkley wrote in a letter with a bipartisan group of 25 senators to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Wyden, Merkley and Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) have led the effort to ensure federal payments for counties by reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools program through S. 430, which has received approval in committee but not yet passed the full Congress.
“The time is now for Congress to help rural Oregon communities facing the unprecedented economic and public health challenges of the coronavirus crisis as well as the aftermath of this year’s devastating fires,” Wyden said. “Our bipartisan request is a must to help these communities in our state and nationwide continue to provide essential services such as roads, schools and public health programs while Congress develops a long-term permanent solution to support a strong quality-of-life for rural America.”
“Our rural towns and counties are already suffering from lost revenue due to the coronavirus crisis. Failing to fully fund SRS and PILT could mean first responders and teachers losing their jobs, which would be terrible for everyone,” Merkley said. “For communities with large tracts of public lands, these funds are a lifeline for critical services ranging from schools to roads to public safety. It is critically important for Congress to reauthorize the federal support that counties need so urgently right now.”
“Nearly two-thirds of Idaho’s lands are federally owned, which severely limits the tax base for counties to pay for essential services such as roads, law enforcement and schools,” Crapo said. “Both PILT and SRS serve as a lifeline to Idaho’s counties, and the ongoing global pandemic has stretched our local budgets even thinner. While I continue to work on a long-term solution for the SRS program, it is crucial that Congress reauthorize SRS and continue to fully fund PILT to ensure a predictable funding source for Idaho counties and school districts encompassed by federal land.”
“Idaho’s rural counties need certainty. This year, the annual fight to secure county payments for communities with federal lands is even more significant given the extraordinary challenges posed by this pandemic,” Risch said. “The federal government has a moral obligation to these communities, and Congress must fund PILT and SRS.”
Co-signers on the letter include Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), Kristen Sinema (D-Arizona) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire).
A copy of the entire letter is HERE.