by Raju Chebium
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Congressional negotiators have included about $400 million for a county payments program in a farm bill proposal they unveiled Monday.
The so-called Payments In Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT, makes yearly payments to impoverished communities that have large tracts of federal land. The money is meant to make up for the loss of property-tax revenues because local authorities can't tax Uncle Sam's holdings.
Under the proposal - called a conference report in congressional parlance -- PILT would be renewed through this fiscal year, which expires Sept. 30, and funding would be on par with the $401 million the program received for fiscal 2013.
The next step is for the House and the Senate to approve the conference report. Votes are likely over the next few weeks.
Nearly 1,900 counties in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands receive PILT payments. They use the money to fix roads, hire teachers, pay police officers and provide other basic public services.
"This extension means they can move forward with their budget and plan for the rest of this year," said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a farm bill negotiator who pushed hard to renew PILT.
"At the same time, we need to provide more certainty for these communities in the long term rather than force them to wonder year to year whether Washington will live up to its end of the bargain," he said.