February 25, 2021

Manchin Leads Bipartisan Push For Secure Rural Schools Program Reauthorization

Washington, DC –  Today, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) led 19 Senators in a bipartisan push for reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program to ensure counties across America do not lose out on essential services due to federal land ownership. The program, which helps fund essential services in rural communities home to federal land, expired in September 2020; the last payment under the current authorization is scheduled for April 2021, less than two months from now.

“Rural communities in West Virginia have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and need these resources to provide essential services. The Secure Rural Schools program has served as a lifeline for rural communities with federal lands, like many in West Virginia, by providing funds for schools and roads. This bill would not only extend the program’s payments for additional years, but it would also allocate funding for broadband services to help close the “homework gap” and ensure children have access to the internet at home. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense legislation and I will continue to advocate for funding that helps rural communities across the Mountain State,” said Senator Manchin.

In December of 2019, Senator Manchin secured a 2-year extension to the SRS program in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations package, which provided more than $1.7 million for counties in West Virginia with Forest Service lands. This year’s bill would also expand the SRS program to ensure that funding can be used to address the “homework gap” so students have the ability to access the internet once they leave school—whether on a school bus, at a library, or at home.

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was originally enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part with a 25 percent share of timber receipts from federal U.S. Forest Service lands. As those revenues have fallen or fluctuated due to reduced timber harvest and market forces, SRS payments helped bridge the gap to keep rural schools open, provide road maintenance, support search and rescue efforts and other essential county services. Since enacted in 2000, SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40. In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties as they budget for basic county services.