04.20.20

Gardner, Bennet Call for Financial Security for Colorado’s Rural Communities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Washington, D.C.– Today, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) called on Senate leaders to provide much-needed financial certainty for rural communities during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis to ensure long-term funding needed for essential services.

In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Gardner, Bennet, and a bipartisan group of colleagues pushed for, “a long-term solution for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs at the next possible opportunity.” 

“The stop and start authorizations and payments under SRS and PILT have wreaked havoc on rural America for decades, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties are decimated. These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs,” wrote Gardner, Bennet, and their colleagues. “With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point.”

Gardner and Bennet supported a two-year extension of SRS last year, which was passed into law as a part of the Fiscal Year 2020 spending package. In September 2019, Gardner and Bennet also introduced legislation to reauthorize the PILT program for ten years. In March, Gardner and Bennet sent a bipartisan letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations calling for full funding for PILT in the upcoming spending legislation. In previous years, Gardner and Bennet have also called for full funding of the PILT program in end-of-year funding legislation. 

In addition to Gardner and Bennet, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), James Risch (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Boozman (R-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tim Scott (R-SC), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

The text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

Following up on the State, County and Locality Stabilization Fund passed as part of the CARES Act in late March 2020, we believe there is an opportunity to further stabilize local government funding in rural counties throughout America. We respectfully request a long-term solution for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs at the next possible opportunity.

The stop and start authorizations and payments under SRS and PILT have wreaked havoc on rural America for decades, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties are decimated. These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs. With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point.

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 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, and received testimony on legislation that would permanently extend SRS and build on the historic link between timber receipts and county payments.

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 consider long-term solutions for PILT and SRS as soon as possible to ensure viability for these programs for generations to come.

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