WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined a bipartisan group of Western senators today urging the White House and the White House budget office to fulfill the federal government’s promise to rural communities by extending a critical lifeline that funds road repairs, schools and law enforcement in rural communities in any future emergency disaster supplemental funding bill it sends to Congress.
Led by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the senators pushed for a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination (SRS). SRS payments support public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services and law enforcement in more than 700 counties across the country. Two-thirds of counties in New Mexico rely on SRS payments, however since SRS expired, payments have decreased from over $9 million in 2016 to $725,000 this year.
The payments expired last year, leaving New Mexico counties without certainty about how to fund these foundational services in rural areas.
“We have seen firsthand the hardships rural counties face as a result of SRS authorization lapsing. Without the certainty of SRS payments, schools, libraries, and jails will close,” the senators wrote in a letter to Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas.
“In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you and Director Mulvaney work with the Congress to include a reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in any emergency disaster funding legislation,” they wrote.
The lack of certainty about SRS funding comes at a time when rural communities in the West are also being hit by record-breaking fire seasons that have been exacerbated by the federal government’s broken system of wildfire funding.
The senators who signed the letter are: Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo(R-Idaho), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), James E. Risch (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
In May, Senators Udall and Heinrich and a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to extend the SRS program for two years.
The text of the letter sent today is available here.