U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) today announced that he has secured a two year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program for local schools, roads, and law enforcement in Oregon’s rural forested communities. The extension has been included in a bipartisan agreement to reform how doctors are paid under Medicare, which the House is set to vote on this week.
“Last December, Speaker Boehner and I committed to extending this lifeline for rural Oregon communities by March 31. Today, we fulfill that commitment. My Oregon colleague Peter DeFazio deserves credit too for working with his leadership to support including this provision. This two year extension gives us time to continue work on a long-term plan to reform federal forest policy to grow jobs in the woods, improve forest health, and provide certainty for essential local services like schools and roads,” Walden said.
The extension will provide funding to 33 cash-strapped Oregon counties. It is broadly supported by local teachers, sheriffs, first responders, and county commissioners. If the county timber payments were not extended, the consequences would be dire for public safety and education. School districts like Grant County School District 3 would be forced to choose between laying off 10 percent of their teachers, eliminating 10 days of instruction, or deferring maintenance for an entire year on their 90-year-old school facilities.
According to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, they would be forced to eliminate their remaining patrol deputies and 911 dispatchers by July without this funding. The Department faces worse patrol shortages than nearly two years ago when a 911 dispatcher asked a woman if she could just ask a man assaulting her to go away because there were no deputies to send on weekends.
House consideration of this bipartisan agreement is expected this week. If passed by the House this week, the bill would then go to the Senate for a vote.
Walden pledged to continue bipartisan work to reform federal forest policy. “During the last session of Congress, the House twice passed a bipartisan plan to reform federal forest policy.
Unfortunately, Senate Democratic leaders never took any meaningful action to reform federal forest policy. I pledge to continue working hard to put forth a long-term solution to actively manage our forests to grow jobs and revenue,” Walden said.
In September 2013, the U.S. House passed a historic forestry reform bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526), which included a section authored by Walden, DeFazio, and Schrader to better manage Oregon’s unique O&C lands. The bill reforms federal forest policy to create jobs in the woods, improve forest health, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and generate revenue for local communities to provide essential local services like schools and law enforcement. In September 2014, due to inaction in the Senate, the House passed this bill for a second time. While an alternative plan was eventually offered in the Senate, the full Senate did not vote on either the House or Senate versions of the bill before the end of the last session of Congress.