November 21, 2019

Wyden: We Have to Secure Rural Communities Against Financial Roller Coaster

At key committee hearing, Wyden pushes for the extension of SRS funds to invest in schools, roads and emergency services in rural counties

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today highlighted the importance of providing financial security for rural communities in Oregon and nationwide by ensuring long-term funding for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services.

At a hearing considering pending legislation on Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs, Wyden said, “We’ve got to get rural communities off this roller coaster where they just have to wait … until the last minute trying to figure out if they’re going to have the money to fix their roads and the like.”

The committee received testimony on two of Wyden’s bipartisan bills – S. 430, a two-year extension of the SRS program and S. 1643 the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, which makes the program permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.

Wyden emphasized that his bills would make clear the “continued commitment to the link between forest management and the economic vitality of rural counties across the county.”

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS)—originally co-authored by Wyden—was enacted in 2000 to help counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part from timber receipts on federal lands. 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 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. In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties as they budget for basic county services.

Video of Wyden’s opening remarks is available here.

Video of Wyden’s additional remarks is available here.