WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined a group of senators in sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), urging them to include a reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Program in any end-of-year legislation. SRS supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services and many other essential county services for more than 775 counties across the country including 27 in Arkansas.
The SRS program expired on September 30, 2015, and has not been reauthorized. Forest counties and schools received their last authorized SRS payment in 2016. Without the SRS program, existing revenue-sharing payments are not sufficient to support the critical services that these counties must provide.
The Senators wrote:
“The SRS program continues to be a critical safety-net for forest counties as we work to diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies.
“In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you include a reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in any end-of-the-year legislation. We appreciate your assistance with this matter.”
Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) led the bipartisan letter that in addition to Boozman was signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dean Heller (R-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeffery A. Merkley (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), James E. Risch (R-ID), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Roger Wicker (R-MS).
The full letter is as follows:
Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:
We write to strongly urge the inclusion of at least a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, which enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, in any end-of-the-year legislation.
On U.S. Forest Service land, the federal government has historically shared 25 percent of timber harvest revenues with counties to compensate for federal ownership. On certain land managed by the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management shares 50 percent of the revenue from federal timber sales with counties. Due to declining timber harvests, a critical source of funding for rural counties, sometimes referred to as “forest counties,” has seen significant decreases, often decimating impacted county budgets.
In 2000, Congress passed SRS with broad bipartisan support as a fiscal solution to help fund essential services resulting from the reduced revenue-sharing receipts. Since then, SRS has been a critical lifeline for over 775 counties in over 40 states across the country by helping fund more than 4,400 schools, road maintenance, law enforcement, and search and rescue operations. However, SRS authorization lapsed last year and rural counties are now back to simply receiving the timber revenue-sharing receipts. These receipts are up to 80 percent less than what forest counties received under SRS.
We are now witnessing firsthand the hardships rural counties face as a result of SRS authorization lapsing. Without the certainty of SRS payments, schools, libraries, and jails are closing. Schools that remain open will see a reduction of teachers. Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas.
The SRS program continues to be a critical safety-net for forest counties as we work to diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies.
In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you include a reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in any end-of-the-year legislation. We appreciate your assistance with this matter.