November 22, 2019

Manchin Welcomes Pocahontas County Teacher To Testify At Senate ENR Hearing

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, welcomed Mr. Justin Dilley, science teacher at Pocahontas County High School, to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the importance of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs to rural communities.

“I’d like to recognize Justin Dilley, Justin’s from Pocahontas County. He’s a high school science teacher in my home state of West Virginia. Thank you, Justin, for being here, and I understand Justin’s students back in West Virginia, in Pocahontas County, are watching, are watching us live this morning. And I would like to say hello to all of them and remind them that they have a great teacher in you, Justin. I know they already know that,” Ranking Member Manchin said. “I happen to be married to a teacher myself, and I understand the work and sacrifices that all of you put into this job—a labor of love. On behalf of me and my wife Gayle, I want to thank both you and your wife for your commitment and service to helping our next generation of West Virginians prepare to succeed in life.”

“I can only speak today to my experiences in our county but I know our experiences are mirrored in counties across the country. Pocahontas County has a population of about 8,400 people and a land area of about 602,000 acres making it the third largest county of the 55 counties in West Virginia. It also gives us a population density of 8.9 people per square mile, the lowest in West Virginia. Of the 602,000 acres that make up Pocahontas County, almost two thirds of this is Monongahela National Forest. This is land that is not available for development and also that is not taxed,” Mr. Dilley said. 

Ranking Member Manchin questioned Mr. Dilley about proper use of SRS funding by West Virginia counties.

“Recently, some allegations were reported of some very serious abuses by county commissioners spending Secure Rural Schools funding in other parts of the county. I know Sen. Wyden has introduced a bill to require the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct more rigorous oversight of counties’ use of funds. So Mr. Dilley, I know that you take your role of ensuring proper use of these funds very seriously as well. Can you describe how Pocahontas County uses the funds it receives through the Secure Rural Schools program,” Ranking Member Manchin asked.

“Absolutely. Pocahontas County, of course – the way West Virginia works is we receive our SRS after the state gets it, we receive it. Many places use their PILT money differently than the SRS funds. And of course, we need these SRS funds. We put them towards things like maintenance to our aging buildings; transportation costs; personnel that the state may not be able to fund, so we have to find ways to fund these personnel; different programs for students – after-school activities, anything that they may need help with; different salaries for personnel that are not covered by the state but we have to have for special education requirements. All these things are what our SRS money is put toward.… But a lot of these SRS funds, you know, these schools need them and depend on them. Our children are our future, and if you’re going to re-establish and grow a rural community, you need to invest in your school systems. And that’s what all the uses of SRS have been going to,” Mr. Dilley said.

Senator Manchin also announced his interest in expanding the SRS program to include coal communities who have been negatively impacted by the changing economy.

“I am examining whether there are ways in which we can expand the Secure Rural Schools program to cover other rural communities whose economies are similarly impacted by downturns in natural resource production,” Ranking Member Manchin said.

Brandon Dennison, Founder and CEO of Coalfield Development, has expressed his support for this proposal.

“This is a creative approach to bringing much needed financial resources to our region.  This revamped program would not just fund projects but would really be investments into the types of creative endeavors that could rebuild our regions’ economies.  Our workers have great skill sets that could benefit the entire country’s economy for decades to come,” Mr. Dennison said.

The hearing also featured witnesses from the U.S. Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service and City and Borough of Wrangell.

To watch the hearing in full, please click here.  

To read Mr. Dilley’s testimony in full, please click here.

To watch Senator Manchin question Mr. Dilley, please click here.