Wyden, Merkley, Bonamici Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Extend Urgently Needed Lifeline to Rural Oregon Counties

May 3, 2017 Issues: Education, Energy and Environment

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., today introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate and House to restore urgently needed federal funding for vital resources in rural counties in Oregon and across the country.
 
The bill will extend payments to counties for two years through the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination (SRS) Act. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., led the bill introductions in the Senate and House.

SRS payments support public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services and law enforcement in more than 700 counties nationwide. The payments expired last year, leaving counties with a lack of certainty about how to fund these critical services in rural areas.

“Reauthorizing Secure Rural Schools is about keeping the doors open in rural Oregon and rural America,” Wyden said. “Counties need a comprehensive and consistent approach to these three essentials: federal resources through SRS, local support and sustainably increasing the harvest. This is urgent business for rural counties in Oregon to keep schools open, make essential road repairs and keep law enforcement on the beat. Our bipartisan coalition gives SRS the best chance for success right now, and I am going to stay at it to give struggling communities the long-term certainty they need.”

“The federal government must hold up its commitment to our timber counties,” Merkley said. “But this is only part of the challenge, which includes improved sustainable harvests and living-wage jobs.”

“Rural counties in Oregon and throughout the country count on the Secure Rural Schools program to help fund critical services, including public schools and law enforcement,” Bonamici said. “Communities have told me how difficult it is to adequately fund public services without this federal assistance. I am pleased to join my bipartisan colleagues to introduce legislation that will authorize payments to timber-dependent counties for another two years. I look forward to working on a long-term strategy to manage our forests effectively and provide communities with financial stability and first-rate schools and services.”

The last SRS funds were paid to Oregon counties in March 2016. Thirty-three Oregon counties received a total of $95 million in Secure Rural Schools payments last year.

The SRS program has brought more than $3 billion to Oregon’s timber counties and schools across the state since Wyden co-authored the original SRS legislation in 1999 with then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

The bill’s Senate cosponsors include: Sens. Wyden, Hatch, Merkley, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., James Risch, R-Idaho, Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

House cosponsors are: Reps. Bonamici, McMorris Rodgers, Sean Duffy, R-Wis., Rick Nolan, D-Minn., Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.

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