WASHINGTON, DC – With a strong bipartisan vote, the U.S. House today passed a two year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program secured by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River). The extension, which was included in a bipartisan bill that reforms how doctors are paid under Medicare, provides needed funding for schools, roads, and law enforcement in rural forested communities. The measure passed by a vote of 392-37.
“Included in this bill is two years’ worth of funding for the Secure Rural Schools program. Now this is like a can of flat fix: an emergency repair on the side of the road to solve a short term problem. What we really need is a permanent fix for our forested counties. But this is an emergency and what we’re doing today is providing a lifeline to our school children in classrooms in rural counties that are forested under federal land, and making sure law enforcement have the resources they need. In my own state of Oregon, this will even protect some counties from going bankrupt because of lack of management and activity on our federal lands,” Walden said on the House floor today before the vote.
This two year extension now goes to the Senate. After the vote, Walden urged immediate Senate action. “Now, the House has passed it with strong support on both sides of the aisle, and the President announced yesterday that he would sign it. Rural Oregon counties are counting on swift action in the Senate. The Senate must pass this lifeline right away.”
Walden also said that further action is needed in the House and Senate on a permanent solution that reforms federal forest policy. “I remain fully committed to working on forestry legislation that puts people back to work in the woods, reduces the threat of wildfire, and produces the revenue to allow for self-sustaining counties and the people in them. I just hope this time, with a new majority in the Senate, we’ll be able to move forward.”
During the last session of Congress, the House twice passed a bipartisan plan that Walden helped write to reform federal forest policy. Unfortunately, Senate Democratic leaders never took any meaningful action to reform federal forest policy.
In September 2013, the U.S. House passed a historic forestry reform bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526), which included a section authored by Walden, DeFazio, and Schrader to better manage Oregon’s unique O&C lands. The bill reforms federal forest policy to create jobs in the woods, improve forest health, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and generate revenue for local communities to provide essential local services like schools and law enforcement. In September 2014, due to inaction in the Senate, the House passed this bill for a second time. While an alternative plan was eventually offered in the Senate, the full Senate did not vote on either the House or Senate versions of the bill before the end of the last session of Congress.