September 26, 2013

Congress Sends President Helium Legislation that Includes County Payments

WASHINGTON, D.C – Congress today sent the President legislation that extends the county timber payments program for another year, providing 33 Oregon counties with $100 million for schools, roads and law enforcement. 

“By signing this legislation the President will help cash-strapped counties and give Congress time to develop a long-term approach to creating jobs in rural Oregon, providing a stable-source of funding for counties and protecting watersheds, fisheries and environmentally sensitive areas,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee which wrote the bill. 

In addition to extending the county payments program, the legislation also ensures continued access to the federal helium supply, preventing a shock to the health care sector and other critical industries, including high-tech, that depend on helium.

The legislation went to the President after the House approved a Senate version of the bill and the Senate agreed to technical changes made by the House.

The county payments program, known as Secure Rural Schools Program, expired last year. Extending the program for another year means that counties in 41 states will get an estimated $329 million. The 33 counties in Oregon that receive county payments will get approximately $100 million, depending on the funding formula and mandatory budget cuts. Wyden passed the first county payments legislation in 2000. Since then the program has brought more than $2.8 billion to Oregon counties. The amount for each county will not be available until later this year, but is expected to be roughly 5 percent less than the payments received this year.

Extending this program provides breathing room to Oregon’s 18 O&C counties, many of which face tight budgets this fall. Wyden plans to introduce an O&C bill soon.