Hard hit rural counties will have another year of federal support for roads, law enforcement and other services that were on the chopping block this year after a last minute deal today extended the Secure Rural Schools program and more than $340 million in funding for rural America.
In Oregon, dozens of counties were bracing for severe cutbacks at the start of the next fiscal year July 1. In one well publicized move, Lane County released dozens of prisoners from the county jail earlier this week due to lack of funding. A newspaper photo showed a motley crew of disheveled defendants striding out of the jail grounds as part of the early release program.
(No word on whether those parolees will be rounded up and returned to the jail anytime soon.)
In total, Oregon counties will receive about $100 million payments from the federal government. The monies are designed to help counties that have a large percentage of federal lands within their boundaries and have seen a significant decline in timber receipts as logging has declined, in part due to more stringent environmental rules. The timber payments have been extended several times and are a perennially political football in the budget negotiations with Western lawmakers, including Oregon’s Ron Wyden, on the Secure Rural Schools bills’ authors, Jeff Merkley and House Republican Greg Walden lobbying their colleagues hard to extend the handout to rural counties where unemployment remains staggeringly high and job growth nearly non-existent.