June 8, 2019(1)

(RURAL EDUCATION, ADVOCACY TOOLS, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link   All Posts

June 2019 The Advocate: Forest Counties Update

Each month, the AASA advocacy team writes an article for The Advocate, designed to be used by our state affiliates in their respective monthly newsletters. The Advocate is a great way to expand the relationship between our national and state organizations, to provide members with a timely update on a relevant topic, and to highlight the priorities of AASA advocacy. This month's topic? Forest counties.

The Advocate: June 2019

This month we dig deep on the Secure Rural Schools and Counties program. It is a critical program that benefits a large majority of states in the nation, with especially important roles in the Pacific Northwest and states with a large amount of federal forest land.

By way of background: In December 2000, with support from the National Forest Counties & Schools Coalition (NFCSC), the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act was signed into law. This bill provided Title I payments to counties (for roads) and to public schools. It also provided payments to counties to invest in Title II Forest Improvement Projects on National Forests and Title III for specific projects and programs in counties.

The Act also authorized the counties to create, in cooperation with the USFS, collaborative Resource Advisory Committees. This Act was enormously successful in that it restored county and school revenues to their 1980's and early 90's levels, resulting in restoration of public services and school programs. The 62 Resource Advisory Committees completed more than 4,000 projects on national forest lands without a single lawsuit or appeal. The original SRS authorization expired in September 2006.

Congress funded the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for the short-term FY 2017-2018 in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1625) which extended SRS funding for FY 2017- 2018. SRS funding for two years provides very short-term financial support for the disintegrating SRS safety net serving 9 million students and county citizens in 4,400 school districts in 775 forest counties in 41 states. No funding was provided in FY19, and no funding has been proposed for FY20 to date.

National forests and communities burned at significant rates over the last few years. Forest communities are suffering human and economic devastation as the SRS safety net continues to unravel. Forest counties, communities, schools and students continue to the pay the price as extremely dangerous fires devastate local communities while also suffering loss of irreplaceable essential fire, police, road and bridge, community and educational services. As a long-term alternative to SRS, the federal government and Congress have been promising but not delivering a long-term system based on sustainable active forest management.

With this background, our most recent success related to SRS has been to secure funding, albeit in a patchwork of short-term funding bills. We need the FY20 appropriations bill to include funding for at least FY20 and FY19 (retroactively) if not also for FY21. For longer term stability, though, the SRS coalition we belong to has pivoted to a two-prong strategy: In addition to the usual push for annual funding, we are also looking for a significant restructuring of the program, to remove its reliance on the annual appropriations process. To that end, we were pleased to see the recent reintroduction of the bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, first introduced in December 2018, which would make SRS permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services. This bill has yet to be introduced in the House, but we are making inroads.

Moving forward through the summer, the ask should be to ensure that your Senators have signed on to the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act and ask them to commit to securing funding for SRS in the final FY20 funding package, including retroactive funding for FY19.


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