U.S. Forest Service Distributes FY 2021 Secure Rural Schools Payments to National Forest Counties

On April 15, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced the release of $238 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments. The money was distributed to 41 states and Puerto Rico and will be delivered as payments to over 700 eligible counties across the country. Counties rely on SRS payments to provide numerous critical services for their communities such as infrastructure, education, conservation projects, search and rescue missions, and wildfire prevention programs. For detailed payment tables by county and state, click here. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet distributed payments to the 18 counties in Oregon containing Oregon and California Railroad Revested (O&C) lands.

SRS is a longstanding revenue share program that assists rural counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal land. The FY 2021 round of payments is the first of three authorized payments under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL, P.L. 117-58). The BIL also increased funding for all three years to FY 2017 levels adding $40 million to county payments.

For the first time since 2013 counties have the opportunity to change the elections of funds between Title I, Title II and Title III activities for the FFY 2023 Payment. 

Allocations between Titles I, II, and III have maximum and minimum allowable percentages. Those percentages are different for minor (Less than $100,000), modest (Between $100,000 and $350,000), and major distributions ($350,000). Allocation must fall within the ranges displayed in Table 1.

Table 1 Allocation Ranges for Each Title and Distribution 

Minor Modest Major
Title I 80% – 100% 80% – 85% 80% – 85%
Title II 0% – 20% 15% – 20% 13% – 20%
Title III 0% – 20% 15% – 20% 0% – 7%

The deadline for reallocation elections between Title I, Title II and Title III activities is September 30. OACES will continue to track updates for the election process.

Public lands counties rely on programs like SRS and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to help maintain their budgets while bearing the responsibility of untaxable federal lands. While these payments represent a fraction of what counties would collect from property taxes and timber receipts, they are critical for local governments to meet their governing missions. The last time authorization for SRS lapsed in FY 2016, counties saw an 80 percent decrease in federal forest payments.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) will continue to work with our congressional champions to enact a long-term funding solution to ensure national forest counties can continue to provide essential services to our residents and visitors.

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Contributed by: Jonathan Shuffield | NACo