Congress Passes Bill to Extend Secure Rural Schools Program and Preserve Nation’s Helium Supply

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved H. Res. 354, legislation to extend for one year the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program and to preserve the nation’s helium supply. The Senate today unanimously approved the bill, sending the measure to the President's desk to be signed into law. 

“The Secure Rural Schools program has been and remains a critical resource for our local communities in the Allegheny National Forest region,” stated Thompson. “This extension offers the certainty of knowing this funding will be available, and will help our local communities pay for schools, roads, and many other essential services.”

Under current law, the U.S. Forest Service pays 25 percent of its timber harvest receipts to the states to be used for roads and schools in the counties where national forests are located, as partial compensation for the tax-exempt status of federal lands. As a result of a significant decrease in timber harvesting on national forest lands during the 1990s, Congress created the SRS, to help compensate these counties for the loss in revenue.

In addition to the SRS extension, H. Res. 354 includes reforms to the nation’s federal helium program, which it set to terminate on October 7, 2013, as required by statute, resulting in an immediate 30 percent reduction in the global helium supply.

“In the absence of Congress taking this action, more than half of our domestic and a third of the world’s helium supply would have no longer been accessible, which would devastate the economy,” said Thompson.

The Federal Helium Reserve, which is operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was originally created in 1926 to help the U.S. keep pace with global advancements in military technologies.  Congress passed legislation, in 1996, which required the sale and privatization of the Reserve by 2015. However, since that time, the growth of the high-tech industry has caused the demand for helium to skyrocket, while private helium production has lagged. 

“Helium plays a key role in our economy and everyday lives. From high-tech manufacturers producing fiber optics to important medical devices such as MRI’s, so many industries rely on helium,” added Thompson. “This is a responsible approach to dealing with this challenge in a manner that prevents helium shortages and avoids unnecessary harm to the economy.”

H. Res. 354 allows the Federal Helium Reserve to continue operations passed the current statutory termination date, thereby preventing the closure of the program and an imminent helium shortage. The bill requires, beginning next year, that BLM helium sales be made through market-based auctions, and terminates federal involvement in helium sales and distribution by 2021.

The package reduces the federal deficit by $90 million. 

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