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Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden are leading a bipartisan group of 29 senators calling for immediate action to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides millions in payments each year to school districts and counties in timber-dependent areas in Idaho and elsewhere that have seen their funding from federal timber harvest receipts fall sharply over the years.

The SRS program expired on Sept. 30, 2015, and final payments were received by schools in March of 2016. That’s left rural schools and counties in a bind – the same bind they experienced in 2014, when the congressional authorization for the SRS program lapsed, creating big budget shortfalls.

According to a letter to Senate leaders signed by the 29 senators, “Many began preparations to halt infrastructure projects, terminate employees, cancel teacher contracts and reduce numerous other critical local services. In that instance, Congress reauthorized the SRS program retroactively. However, in many cases services had already been impacted in counties and school districts.”

That’s what the senators are seeking again now – retroactive reauthorization of the program. They’re asking that it be included in any year-end funding legislation that goes through this year. You can read the full letter here.

In 2015, $28 million flowed from the program to rural schools and roads in Idaho. The program began with passage of the Craig-Wyden Act in 2000 to help counties with large tracts of federal land that had seen big drops in federal timber payments. The act created a substitute supply of money, but Congress must periodically reauthorize the payments.

By Betsy Z. Russell