In Midst of COVID-19 Crisis, Wyden, Merkley, Colleagues Call for Financial Security for Rural Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and James Risch, R-Idaho, today led a bipartisan group of 23 other senators on a letter calling for the Senate to finally provide much-needed financial certainty during the COVID-19 crisis for rural communities to ensure long-term funding needed for essential services.

In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the senators pushed for, “a long-term solution for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs at the next possible opportunity.” 

“The stop and start authorizations and payments under SRS and PILT have wreaked havoc on rural America for decades, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties are decimated. These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs,” the senators wrote. “With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point.”

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS)—originally co-authored by Wyden and Crapo—was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Wyden, Merkley, Crapo and Risch have worked to give SRS a more permanent role in assisting rural counties with large tracts of federal lands. Most recently, in May 2019 they reintroduced their bill to make the SRS program permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services. In November 2019, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also held a legislative hearing on PILT and SRS, and received testimony on legislation that would permanently extend SRS and build on the historic link between timber receipts and county payments.

Joining Wyden, Merkley, Crapo, and Risch on this letter were U.S. Sens. Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., John Boozman, R-Ark., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Dan Sullivan, R-Ark., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.        

A copy of the letter is available here.