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Federal Government Wants Money Back From Idaho

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

Government agencies in Idaho know they’ll be getting less money from the federal government for the foreseeable future. That’s because of spending cuts known as the sequester. Seth Grigg with the Idaho Association of Counties says every county and school district in the state has been preparing for a 5 percent reduction in future payments from the federal government.

“Nobody was prepared to have monies that they’d already collected… for them to need to return those dollars,” Grigg says.

That’s what may happen. About two weeks ago Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter got a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service. It asks that $1.5 million be returned because of the sequester. That money comes from a payment made to the state earlier this year under the Secure Rural Schools Act. That law gives money to counties that have lost timber industries. For some counties it represents a big part of the budget for roads, school districts and emergency services. Grigg says returning this money is worse for counties than the reduced payments still to come.

“In many cases, these funds, they may have already been spent. Or they’re in contract to be spent,” he says. “It is going to be a significant setback to these counties that received these dollars.”  

More than 30 members of Congress have signed a letter asking the Department of Agriculture to halt its claw-back. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson is one of them. The Department does offer an alternative. Its letter says the governor can opt for a larger reduction on a future payment counties use for conservation projects. The state has about two and half weeks to decide.  A spokesman for Gov. Otter says they will likely take that route. If not, the letter says, Idaho can expect a bill.

We asked the members of Idaho's congressional delegation for reaction. Senator Jim Risch sent us the following.

“By asking counties to return funding that was paid three months before sequestration, and from fiscal year 2012 funds, is an example of the Obama administration attempting to inflict the most pain on people, particularly our schools. I am very aware of what is being attempted by the Forest Service and I am working with others to determine the appropriate steps that will keep this funding to our rural counties intact.”

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