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Federal Payments To Rural Counties Set To Expire In April

The Mt. Hood National Forest is part of Oregon's federally managed lands.
Eric Muhr via unsplash
The Mt. Hood National Forest is part of Oregon's federally managed lands.

Many rural counties in the West rely on a federal program to help fund schools, roads and law enforcement. But they could see their last payment weeks from now.

For more than two decades, the Secure Rural Schools program has provided funding to rural counties where there are large tracts of federal land — and therefore, a smaller tax base.

The program usually gets renewed every couple of years. It expired in September last year and its last payment is set for this April.

Congressmen from Oregon and Idaho introduced a bill last week that would reauthorize the program. They included Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho.

Wyden says continually renewing the program every couple of years is a rollercoaster for rural counties.

“What our bipartisan coalition is trying to do is use money to in effect grow an endowment to have money that would be available to rural counties on a more predictable basis,” Wyden says.

Wyden introduced a bill in 2019 that would do just that, but it hasn’t made it past the Senate.

Federal lands make up 52% of Oregon’s total acreage. It ranks fifth among states with the most federal lands, behind Nevada (80%), Utah (63%), Idaho (62%), and Alaska (61%).

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.