WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) pressed congressional leaders to fund programs in the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bill that provide resources for essential services for rural counties.
In a bipartisan letter, Boozman and his colleagues call for robust funding for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS).
PILT provides federal payments to nearly 1,900 local governments across 49 states to help offset losses in property taxes because of nontaxable federal land. In Arkansas, 67 counties received more than $7.6 million in PILT Funding for Fiscal Year 2020.
SRS was enacted to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. In the most recent SRS Payment Report, Arkansas received more than $6 million in funding for Fiscal Year 2019.
Boozman has supported efforts to provide long-term certainty for these programs so they can better assist rural counties with large tracts of federal lands.
“SRS and PILT serve as a lifeline to rural America’s local governments and now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties have taken a hit,” senators wrote in the letter. “With additional demands on their resources as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities and counties are stretched thinner than ever.”
The letter was authored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Full text of the letter is below.
Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer and Leader McCarthy:
We write to share our steadfast support for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. Specifically, we urge you to include a reauthorization of SRS and maintain robust PILT funding as part of the appropriations process.
SRS and PILT serve as a lifeline to rural America’s local governments and now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties have taken a hit. These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs. With additional demands on their resources as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities and counties are stretched thinner than ever.
Despite being small, rural, and generally relatively remote, county governments that rely on SRS and PILT are responding to the same national health crisis facing larger cities and urban areas. Extending and funding these two programs has wide, bipartisan support, which was on display as recently as 2019, when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing on PILT and SRS.
As Congress works to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that public lands provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, grazing opportunities, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization is critical for counties across the country.
In order to assist these rural counties’ response to the current public health crisis, as well as to invest in infrastructure, schools, and law enforcement, Congress must include a reauthorization of SRS, including the programmatic amendments to S. 430 passed on a broad bipartisan basis in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Further, we urge you to maintain robust funding for PILT as you continue funding negotiations for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Original article source: https://www.boozman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2020/12/boozman-calls-for-funding-of-public-lands-payments-to-support-rural-communities | Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council