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Merkley urges fix to error costing Ore. counties

By KTVZ.COM news sources
Published On: Mar 13 2013 01:09:46 PM CDT
Sen. Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called on the Department of the Interior on Wednesday to fix a mistake that cost 18 Oregon timber counties about $2 million in lost Secure Rural Schools funding.

Due to the automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester," 5.1% of SRS funding, which compensates the counties for lost timber sales revenue, was to be withheld.

However, the Department of the Interior withheld 10% of the funding in February.

Merkley wrote to the Secretary of the Interior to ask for the mistakenly withheld funds to be sent to the Oregon counties.

“I voted against the sequester because I feared these drastic cuts would hold back our economic recovery and hurt our most vulnerable citizens. This is exactly what is happening in the 18 O&C counties,” wrote Merkley.

“Several are already on the brink of bankruptcy, and if these funds are not released, many will need to cut further the basic public health and safety programs that its citizens depend on. More sheriffs’ deputies will be laid off, more jail capacity will be reduced, and the public health and safety will be further weakened. This mistake must be corrected without delay.”

Senator Merkley’s letter asks the Department of the Interior to refund the 18 O&C counties the 4.9% that was incorrectly withheld in February, so that county operations are not hindered due to a bureaucratic mistake. This amount is approximately $2 million.

Full text of the letter to the Secretary of Interior is below.

March 13, 2013

Secretary Ken Salazar

United States Department of the Interior

1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar,

I am writing to request that the Department of the Interior release that portion of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funds that have been incorrectly sequestered. These funds were promised to 18 O&C counties in western and southern Oregon under the one year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act that was included in H.R. 4348, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.

According to a March 1, 2013 report sent by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the Congress regarding the sequester, the Department of Interior was only supposed to retain 5.1 percent of funds from the SRS account.  In February 2013, the Department of Interior withheld 10 percent of funds that were to be paid to the 18 O&C counties.

The Department of Interior withheld more than was required by the direction provided by OMB, creating a surplus that must be released immediately to the counties.  My understanding is that this should equal 4.9 percent of total SRS funds for FY12, or approximately $2 million.  

Lurching from crisis to crisis is no way to govern, and now Americans have begun to suffer further from Congress’s dysfunction as the drastic cuts from the sequester kick in. I voted against the sequester because I feared these drastic cuts would hold back our economic recovery and hurt our most vulnerable citizens.  This is exactly what is happening in the 18 O&C counties.  Several are already on the brink of bankruptcy, and if these funds are not released, many will need to cut further the basic public health and safety programs that its citizens depend on.  More sheriffs’ deputies will be laid off, more jail capacity will be reduced, and the public health and safety will be further weakened.

This mistake must be corrected without delay.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey A. Merkley

United States Senator

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