WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and a bipartisan group of western senators urged the White House and the White House Budget Office to fulfill the federal government’s promise to rural communities by extending a critical lifeline that funds road repairs, schools and law enforcement in rural communities in any future emergency disaster supplemental funding bill it sends to Congress.
The senators pushed for a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination (SRS). SRS payments support public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services and law enforcement in more than 700 counties across the country.
The payments expired last year, leaving counties without certainty about how to fund these foundational services in rural areas.
“We have seen firsthand the hardships rural counties face as a result of SRS authorization lapsing. Without the certainty of SRS payments, schools, libraries, and jails will close, as they have in Oregon,” the senators wrote in a letter to Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “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."
“In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you and Director Mulvaney work with the Congress to include a reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in any emergency disaster funding legislation,” they wrote.
Counties received their last SRS funds in March 2016. Since the program expired, residents in many of the counties that depend on this funding have had to choose between keeping schools and libraries open and laying off law enforcement.
The lack of certainty about SRS funding comes at a time when rural communities in the West are also being hit by record-breaking fire seasons that have been exacerbated by the federal government’s broken system of wildfire funding.
The letter signed by Senator Cantwell was also signed by Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., James E. Risch, R-Idaho, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Read today’s letter here.