Timber payment extension attached to Medicare bill

The two-year extension is included in a bipartisan measure.

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Legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives have come to a tentative agreement to extend “timber payments” that will provide aid to rural Oregon.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) was instrumental in getting the two-year extension attached to a Medicare reform bill.

“Last December, Speaker Boehner and I committed to extending this lifeline for rural Oregon communities by March 31,” Walden said in a news release. “Today, we fulfill that commitment.”

Thirty-three rural Oregon counties will receive $185 million in funding.

Portland Business Journal reports:

Without it, Walden said Grant County School District, for example, would need to lay off 10 percent of its teachers, slash 10 days of instruction or defer maintenance for a full year on its 90-year-old facilities. The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office would need to eliminate its remaining patrol deputies and 911 dispatchers by July.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would then go to a Senate vote.

The Register-Guard provides some context for the timber payments:

The SRS payments were originally designed to compensate rural counties, parishes and boroughs across the nation for revenue they lost after environmental concerns caused a sharp decline in logging on federal lands. But support for the program has wavered in recent years, leading to uncertainty for rural county budgets amid a series of last-minute extensions by Congress.

This year, the payments are being tacked on to an unrelated Medicare bill, known as the “doc fix” bill, which has wide bipartisan support in the U.S. House. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday, shortly before a two-week recess. The bill would then head to the Senate, where lawmakers will need to act quickly before the current “doc fix” law expires on March 31.

Sen. Ron Wyden expects the extension to pass the Senate as a committee has already approved a three-year extension to the funding.

“It is good news the House leadership has decided to stop playing politics with the safety net for Oregon counties,” Wyden said in a statement. “Their decision is a concrete recognition that linking the safety net to unsustainable and unacceptable logging practices can never become law.”

Bend Bulletin reports on the local impact:

Central Oregon would receive a total of $648,884 at this level. …

Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney explained she wishes the county had more control over local lands. Baney said 78 percent of Deschutes County lands are publicly owned. Although the county has “learned to live within (its) means,” Baney said, the payments are still crucial to Deschutes County and the vast majority go to roads, which have paved the way for the post-mill economy.

The Medford Mail Tribune reported Jackson County received about $7.8 in 2013-14 and could expect a five-percent cut.

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