Policy & Funding | News
Helium Bill Floats $270 Million to Rural Education
Rural education is receiving federal funding from an unexpected source: helium. Amid the federal government shutdown, the United States House and Senate passed a measure last week dealing with helium reserves that also reauthorized the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination program, affecting funding for more than 4,000 schools.
The Helium Stewardship Act was designed primarily to address an impending shutdown of the United States' Federal Helium Reserve. Owing to a privatization law that passed in the mid-1990s, the helium reserve was scheduled to shut down next week, essentially cutting off 40 percent to 50 percent of the helium supply in the nation.
Helium isn't just used for party balloons and dirigibles. It's also used extensively in healthcare, scientific research, and industry. A cutoff in the supply would have had an impact on current and future production. A coalition of businesses and scientific and academic institutions had lobbied for passage of the Helium Stewardship Act, which, as of this writing, is awaiting the President's signature.
The immediate impact of the new law is the extension of the operation of the Federal Helium Reserve through Sept. 30, 2014, an extension designed to give policymakers time to put a plan in place for running the privatization program.
As a side effect of the law, the federal government is expecting revenues of about $495 million. The primary beneficiary of those finds will be rural schools.
The act reauthorized the Secure Rural Schools for another year. (Technically, the program expired back in 2006; each year the program has been extended, though at slightly reduced funding levels.)
The Secure Rural Schools program is operated out of the United States Forest Service's Bureau of Land Management. More than 700 counties and 4,400 schools receive funding through the program.
Other projects to be funded through the Helium Stewardship Act's revenues include:
- $51 million for deficit reduction;
- $50 million for abandoned well remediation;
- $50 million for national parks maintenance;
- $60 million for the Abandoned Land Mine Fund;
- Roughly $15 million in reduced royalty rates for soda ash production.
Additional details can be found on the State Department's site.