WASHINGTON - Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici applauded Friday's Forest Service announcement that it will soon release $67.8 million in payments to 18 Oregon counties under the Secure Rural Schools program.
Oregon is expected to receive more than $107 million in timber payments, once the Interior Department releases its funding to counties in the coming weeks. The program will distribute a total of $329 million to more than 700 counties across the United States.
"These payments are a lifeline for rural communities struggling to pay for law-enforcement, roads, schools and other essential services, which is why I fought so hard to renew them for yet another year," Wyden said. "However, timber payments aren't enough - these communities also need jobs in the woods. I am working to pass bills to get the harvest up and improve forest health on Oregon's O&C lands and east of the Cascades."
"We must ensure that Oregon's rural communities have the resources they need to provide for their schools, roads, and public safety, and it is unacceptable that it took the federal government this long to get them to Oregon," Merkley said. "Today's payments will make a big difference in communities across our state, but they are no substitute for a long-term plan to grow our rural economy. I am working with Senator Wyden and other members of our delegation to increase and improve national forest management to support rural Oregon and create more jobs in the woods."
"This is good news for cash-strapped counties that are struggling to pay for vital county services like law enforcement and jail beds—and we are glad these critical payments are finally reaching the O&C counties, some of which are on the brink of insolvency. But we need a long-term solution. That's why the Oregon Delegation continues to work together to bridge the gap between the House-passed O&C plan and the Senate proposal, and ultimately find a bipartisan, bicameral solution that creates family-wage jobs, ensures the health of federal forests, and provides funding certainty for our rural counties." Peter DeFazio said.
"This is short-term relief for rural counties, but this status quo of asking for a check every year is not sustainable. Rural communities need certainty and people need jobs. Our delegation has worked hard to fix broken federal forest policy to create jobs in the woods, improve forest health, and provide revenue for local communities. We have a rare opportunity to change the law, and it's time to get this done for Oregon." Walden said.
"Secure Rural Schools is a vital program for rural communities in Oregon struggling to provide essential services for these areas, "Schrader said. "Although I will continue to support SRS payments, I remain committed to working with my colleagues on a long term solution that will get folks back to work in the woods. Hopefully, by the end of the year, an O&C bill will be sent to the President for signature, which will revitalize timber production in these communities and create family-wage jobs."
"This is great news for the rural communities that rely on this funding to maintain quality schools and infrastructure," Bonamici said. "The Secure Rural Schools funding is important, but for long-term success in these rural communities we need to continue to build the economy."
Oregon's delegation successfully extended the Secure Rural Schools program last year as part of a bill to transition the federal government out of the helium business. Sen Wyden co-authored the original SRS program in 2000. Since then, the program has brought $2.8 billion to Oregon counties devastated by declining timber harvests.
A county-by-county breakdown of total payments was not available on Friday but Forest Service payments by county can be found at this link: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/pts/securepayments/projectedpayments