April 22, 2020

Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Udall Joins Bipartisan Call For Long-term, Reliable Funding for PILT and Secure Rural Schools Programs To Provide Financial Security to Rural NM Communities

SANTA FE, N.M. U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined a bipartisan group of 25 other senators on a bipartisan letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), calling for the Senate to provide much-needed budgetary certainty for rural communities to ensure long-term funding needed for essential services during the COVID-19 crisis. 

In the letter, the senators pushed for, “a long-term solution for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs at the next possible opportunity.” 

“The stop and start authorizations and payments under SRS and PILT have wreaked havoc on rural America for decades, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties are decimated. These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs,” the senators continued. “With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point.” 

PILT provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes because of nontaxable federal land within their boundaries, and these resources are critical to rural counties across the country, which use the funding to provide services, such as police, fire protection, and emergency response. New Mexico counties annually receive payments for over 22 million acres of nontaxable federal land. The SRS program, which benefits rural counties near national forests, supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, and other county projects. Along with PILT, rural counties rely heavily on SRS to help provide essential services to residents. Two-thirds of counties in New Mexico rely on SRS payments.

In the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill, Udall secured full funding for the PILT program at a total of $500 million—$40 million of which was appropriated to local governments in New Mexico. Udall also secured 2 years of SRS payments in the FY 2018 Omnibus as part of the Fire Funding Fix. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched those funds thin, and the local governments in rural communities are in dire need of additional financial security. Udall also co-sponsored the Coronavirus Community Relief Act to provide $250 billion in stabilization funds geared towards localities with populations under 500,000 that are struggling in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, led by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho), was also signed by Senators Jeff Merkley, (D-Ore.), and James Risch, (R-Idaho), was also signed by U.S. Sens. Michael F. Bennet, (D-Colo.), Steve Daines, (R-Mont.), Martha McSally, (R-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Ariz.), Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), Josh Hawley, (R-Mo.), Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-Nev.), John Boozman, (R-Ark.), Jon Tester, (D-Mont.), Shelley Moore Capito, (R-W.Va.), Tina Smith, (D-Minn.), Dan Sullivan, (R-Ark.), Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.), Tim Scott, (R-S.C.), Kamala D. Harris, (D-Calif.), Mitt Romney, (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen, (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.), Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), and Patty Murray, (D-Wash).      

A copy of the letter is available here.