Title II funding will be restored

Winston County Commissioner for District 1 Rutger Hyche examines a forest, or co-op road that goes from surface treatment to dirt. The county is desperately needing funding to correct such issues.

WINSTON COUNTY     - After Winston County officials became fearful they would no longer receive Title II funding for use on forest roads, they sought help at the federal level, with news the funding will be restored.
The Winston County Commission, along with other counties,  applied for federal Title II funding, also known as Secure Rural Schools and Communities funding in September, 2023.
However,  Zack Brannon--a member of the Resource Advisory Committee, which is compiled by the U.S.D.A. U.S. Forest Service -  which is responsible for allocating Title II funds in the state - gave the commission some troubling news at their February 5, meeting about the future of the funding.
Brannon began by announcing that the $140,000 Winston County was to have received through the RAC committee for this year, will not come to the county.
“Any funding you remove from Winston County is detrimental,” Brannon pointed out. “We don’t have a lot to begin with.”
The SRS program provides critical funding for schools, roads and other municipal services to more than 700 countries across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, county officials explained.
This funding is provided through the USDA U.S. Forest Service and is set aside for work on roads, trails and work on national forest lands within counties, such as Winston, that house these federally-owned properties, officials added.
Winston is included in the counties housing federal lands that do not receive tax money for the property.   SRS Title II was set up in 2000 by the U.S. Congress to help with the lack of funding, county officials explained.
“We have a lot of roads that are in disrepair.  A lot of them  are in the forest area,” Brannon pointed out. “We have some citizens in there that it effects, school bus routes. Your emergency management folks, they need to get in to these areas, too.”
Areas that qualify for Title II funds include the Bankhead National Forest in Winston and Lawrence counties;  Talladega National Forest in Clay and Talladega counties and Escambia National Forest in Conecuh County.
“Those counties choose their funds be put into Title II,” Brannon explained.
Brannon explained to commissioners that SRS Title II projects that were previously approved can continue to be worked, as long as RAC members are not completing the projects, Brannon indicated.
Brannon also explained that the decision made at first to hold back the Title II funds came from the federal level, and had nothing to do with the committee on which he served, stating they were surprised, as well.
However, according to the Office of General Counsel’s interpretation of 16 USC 7127(b), fiscal year 2022 funds are the only prior year funds that can be applied toward these projects,  according to the OGC for USDA attorneys in an issued statement.
“While the forest service had not previously limited the rollover to just the preceding fiscal year, we have been advised that doing so is inconsistent with the statutory language,” the OGC stated.
“Therefore, they say, in order for us to receive these funds, a statute or a law will have to be changed,” Brannon told commissioners, “which means it has to go through Congress.”
Since the Title II funding provided through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 had already been allocated for Winston County, the funding to the county will not be affected by the fact that the bill has not been reauthorized by the U.S. Congress as of yet.  The Secure Rural Schools Reauthorization Act of 2023 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) July 27, 2023, according to congress.gov.  A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House by Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO) on the same date, according to congress.gov.  As of presstime Monday, Feb. 19, no action had been taken on the bills.  
The U.S. Congress was informed about this issue by the commission, with Congressman and Winston County native Robert Aderholt explaining that Winston County received false information and that he would help free up Title II funds for them this year.
“As soon as I heard from the Winston County commissioners that there was a problem at the Department of Agriculture with the money being sent to Winston County, we immediately went to work,” Aderholt pointed out.
“Evidently, the Department of Agriculture initially told Winston County the wrong information,” Aderholt added.
“I’m glad we could help get it straightened out. I appreciate the commissioners calling this to our attention, as this money is important to our county,” Aderholt continued.  “It’s being resolved, and Winston County should be getting its money in the near future.”



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