On April 2, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced the release of over $193 million in 2020 Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments. The money was distributed to 41 states and will be delivered as payments to over 700 eligible counties across the country. Counties rely on SRS payments to provide numerous critical services for their communities such as infrastructure, education, conservation projects, search and rescue missions and wildfire prevention programs. For detailed payment tables by county and state, click here. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet distributed payments to the 18 counties in Oregon containing O&C lands.
SRS is a longstanding revenue share program that assists rural counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal land. This most recent round of payments is the last SRS issuance, authorized under the FY 2020 appropriations package in 2019, due to an absence of recent congressional action. Public lands counties rely on programs like SRS and Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) to help maintain their budgets while bearing the responsibility of untaxable federal lands. While these payments represent a fraction of what counties would collect from property taxes and timber receipts, they are critical for local governments to continue providing the essential services their communities rely on.
If Congress fails to reauthorize SRS for FY 2021 and beyond, counties will face dramatic budgetary shortfalls which will have longstanding impacts as our nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. The last time authorization for SRS lapsed in FY 2016, counties saw an 80% decrease in federal forest payments.
NACo will continue to work with our congressional champions to enact a long-term funding solution for SRS to ensure counties can continue to provide essential services to our residents.