Extension of Secure Rural Schools Act and the Mental Health Parity Act
Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today voted to extend the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act and to approve the Mental Health Parity Act as part of H.R. 6049, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act.
"Alaska got a big win today when we voted for this legislation," said Senator Stevens. "I am a strong supporter of the program established by the SRS Act. The drastic reduction in timber receipts to Alaskan communities caused by federal timber policy and continual litigation over timber sales in our National Forests has left many communities with few funds for critical public services, education, and transportation needs. This provision will help build schools and roads, pay teachers, and buy books."
"Our Southeast communities and school districts have been waiting for two school years wondering whether the Secure Rural Schools Act would be extended. The Senate has long supported the extension of this crucial program, but our efforts have not met with success in the House of Representatives. I'm cautiously optimistic that this effort will meet with better success," added Senator Murkowski.
The original Secure Rural Schools Act expired in 2006. The measure passed today would provide a dedicated funding stream for local municipalities and school districts for fiscal years 2008 through 2011.
In the bill, payments to Alaska would increase because of a new formula for determining payments based on the acreage of National Forest lands in Alaska. The new formula is expected to increase Alaska's share of funding from $9.7 million to about $19 million.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program (PILT)
Senators Stevens and Murkowski also voted to fund the PILT program at the maximum level. This program compensates local governments for federal land within their jurisdictions which cannot be taxed. Alaskan communities received $15.6 million in PILT funding for fiscal year 2008 which ends September 30.
The Mental Health Parity Act
The Senate also voted to approve the Mental Health Parity Act, which both Senators support. It would require private insurance carriers that offer mental health benefits as part of their comprehensive coverage plan to put those benefits on par with that of their medical-surgical benefits. This bill would ensure that any limits placed on mental health coverage must not be any more restrictive than those for medical and surgical benefits.