A US House of Representatives committee has approved a US$2.7bn funding package designed to help rural communities hit by a declining timber industry.

The natural resources committee passed the Public Lands Communities Transition Act, which would enact payments over a four-year period to about 700 counties in 39 states, on a voice vote.

“We must not ignore the hardworking residents and families in rural communities that are desperately in need of the resources to fund local schools and safe roads,” said committee chairman Nick Rahall. “The enactment of this legislation is a priority.”

The bill would ensure that counties located on National Forest lands who received stable payments through the now expired Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act would continue to receive transition payments.

The Senate will need to pass the legislation before the cash can be freed up.