Delegation Wants Speedy Release of County Payments

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Oregon Reps. Greg Walden, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici today urged the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to swiftly release Secure Rural Schools payments to struggling Oregon counties. The program provides much needed funding for schools, roads, and law enforcement in rural forested communities in Oregon and around the country.

“Despite efforts in Congress and in Oregon to reform federal forest management and provide greater stability for our forested communities, county governments in Oregon continue to struggle to balance their budgets. Some are even teetering on the brink of bankruptcy,” the members wrote in a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and BLM Director Neil Kornze. “The Secure Rural Schools program provides them with much needed funding for schools, roads, and law enforcement. And it is imperative that they receive this funding as soon as possible. Within the new extension, Congress directed your agencies to deliver funding within 45 days of enactment. We strongly urge you to make these payments by June 1, 2015 or sooner and request to be notified when these payments have been distributed.”

The delegation also asked the agencies if the payments would be subject to the “sequester,” automatic, across-the-board budget cuts administered by the Office of Management and Budget. This would affect the amount of funding received by counties. “We have also heard questions and concerns from our constituents as to how budget sequestration will impact Fiscal Year 2014 Secure Rural Schools payments. Since it preceded the reauthorization, the Office of Management and Budget’s report from March 10, 2014 does not list Secure Rural Schools as a program subject to sequestration. Please detail for us how your agencies plan to apply the mandated sequester to the recent Secure Rural Schools extension. This is very important to struggling Oregon counties who need to budget for how much money they will receive,” the members wrote.

A two-year extension of Secure Rural Schools payments was included in recent legislation that reforms how doctors are paid under Medicare. It passed out of the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support, and was signed into law by the President on April 16, 2015.