As COVID-19 Strains Local Coffers, Tester Pushes for Long-Term Fix to Funding for Rural Counties

Senator: “Congress must consider long-term solutions for PILT and SRS … to ensure viability for these programs for generations to come”

As local governments lose revenue in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pushing for a permanent fix for two programs that provide critical funding for rural Montana counties.

Tester and a bipartisan group of his colleagues wrote a letter to Senate leadership calling for a long-term funding solution for two programs that provide counties with funding for essential services—Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act (SRS).

“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,” Tester and his colleagues wrote. “These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs. With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point.”

PILT makes payments to counties with large amounts of untaxable federal land for services like law enforcement, mental health programs, and libraries, and SRS compensates forested counties with federal land for lost revenue due to declining timber production.

Tester and his colleagues continued: “In order to assist these rural counties’ response to the current public health crisis, as well as to invest in infrastructure, schools, and law enforcement, Congress must consider long-term solutions for PILT and SRS as soon as possible to ensure viability for these programs for generations to come.”

Tester has long fought for PILT and SRS. He secured two years of SRS funding in 2019 and delivered $40 million in PILT funds for Montana in 2018 alone.

The Senators’ letter is available HERE.