April 21, 2021

Wyden, Crapo, Merkley, Risch Urge Biden Administration to Support Long-term Stability for Secure Rural Schools Program

Senators ask OMB to include the creation of a permanent national endowment fund for the Secure Rural Schools program in its FY2022 budget request to Congress

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, today asked the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to support long-term stability for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program to ensure rural counties have the consistent funding needed for schools, road maintenance, and other essential services.

In a letter to OMB Acting Director Shalanda Young, the senators requested that OMB include a permanent national endowment fund for the SRS program in its upcoming FY2022 budget request to Congress, and that it be modeled on the senators' bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act.

“To address declining timber harvests that led to significant funding decreases for forest counties, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools program with broad bipartisan support in 2000. Since then, SRS has become a critical lifeline in over 700 counties in over 40 states by providing funding that supports schools, road maintenance, public safety, search and rescue operations, as well as mental and physical health services,” the senators wrote. 

“In recent years, however, funding for the program has lapsed or decreased, creating a financial rollercoaster for counties as they budget for essential county services. After the significant economic impact of COVID-19, funding certainty for rural communities is essential. An endowment fund for SRS to make the program permanent, would provide that certainty, and give counties the funding stability and reliability that they need to support their communities.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.

Background on the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act:

The bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, which the senators first introduced in December 2018, makes the Secure Rural Schools program permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS)—originally co-authored by Wyden—was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Since then, Wyden, Crapo, Merkley and Risch have worked to give SRS a more permanent role in assisting rural counties with large tracts of federal lands. 

Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part with a 25 percent share of timber receipts from federal U.S. Forest Service lands and a 50 percent share of timber receipts from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As those revenues have fallen or fluctuated due to reduced timber harvest and market forces, SRS payments helped bridge the gap to keep rural schools open, provide road maintenance, support search and rescue efforts and other essential county services. Since enacted in 2000, SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states to fund schools and essential services like roads and public safety.

The senators’ Forest Management for Rural Stability Act ends uncertainty for the program and provides rural counties financial security.

More information on the legislation can be found here.