March 22, 2018

Wyden, Merkley, Walden Secure Two Years of Lifeline Funding for Rural Oregon Counties

Washington, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., secured two years of critical funding for education, transportation and law enforcement services for residents in rural counties in Oregon and nationwide.

Wyden, Merkley and Walden successfully included a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in legislation Congress must pass by Friday to fund the government. SRS payments are crucial to keeping schools and libraries open, maintaining roads, ensuring there are police officers to keep communities safe, and providing mental health resources in rural counties.

They also secured a fix, based on a bipartisan bill introduced by Merkley, Wyden and Walden, that will solve a problem with the federal government’s implementation of Title III of SRS. In past years, this problem has prevented counties from using their Title III SRS funds for law enforcement patrols and training and equipment related to emergency response.

“This extension of Secure Rural Schools payments is a crucial part of what must be a full-court press to shore up our rural communities in Oregon,” Wyden said. “These funds have proven essential to keep teachers in schools, cops on the beat, roads safe to travel, and mental health services at hand for residents in rural counties where the federal government owns much of the land.”

“With our county funds stretched thin, this extension will provide a much-needed lifeline for critical services ranging from schools to roads to public safety,” Merkley said. “I’m pleased that this bill now provides full flexibility for counties to use their emergency response dollars where they will do the most good. Now, we need to redouble our efforts to increase sustainable harvests and create living-wage jobs that can help power our rural communities for years to come.”

“Providing two years of Secure Rural Schools funding is critical for providing essential county services that our communities in Oregon rely on every day,” Walden said. “I am proud to have worked closely with my Oregon colleagues to secure this extension, and fix current policy to ensure our public safety officers have what they need to do their jobs. This legislation marks an important step forward to support our local schools, infrastructure, and law enforcement officers in Oregon’s rural forested communities, which continues to be a priority of mine in Congress.”

Wyden and Merkley introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last year to reauthorize the SRS program for two years.

The bill also includes a Title III policy change that will ensure Oregon counties can use SRS funds full a full range of emergency response activities, including preparations for emergency response and law enforcement patrols. This change represents a common-sense fix to a problem that has prevented many counties from using their full Secure Rural Schools resources where they are most needed for the community.

Currently, the federal government allows SRS funds to be used for counties’ emergency response activities – but not for preparations for emergency response. This has created an illogical policy where, for instance, counties could use these funds to carry out a search and rescue mission, but not for the training and equipment that is necessary to the success of that mission. Today’s bill will fix this counterproductive loophole.

Wyden wrote the original legislation that created the SRS program in 2001. Since then, Secure Rural Schools payments have brought more than $3 billion to rural counties in Oregon.