Lawmakers Push Back on Move to Revoke Metro Status for 144 Cities

Increasing the urban population needed to qualify as a metropolitan area from 50,000 to 100,000 will deprive dozens of communities of needed funding, a bipartisan group of lawmakers say. 

A map shows cities that might lose their designation as metropolitan statistical areas. .

(CN) — A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are pushing back against recommendations by the federal government that would revoke the metropolitan status from 144 cities and relabel them as “micropolitan.” 

Eight U.S. senators and two U.S. representatives sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, opposing its plan to raise the population criteria for areas to qualify as metropolitan, which affects access to federal funding.

The letter was signed by Republican Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven of North Dakota, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly from Arizona also signed the letter, joined by Republican Congressmen Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Adrian Smith of Nebraska.

“Adhering to this recommendation has the potential to harm communities across the nation, which we hope you take into account while considering these recommendations,” they wrote to OMB Acting Director Rob Fairweather last week.

The agency designates metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas based on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and periodically revisits the topic. 

“The purpose of these statistical areas is unchanged from when standard metropolitan areas were first delineated: The classification provides a nationally consistent set of delineations for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics for geographic areas,” the OMB wrote in a request for public comment published Jan. 19 in the Federal Register. 

The last standard updates occurred in 2010.

According to the agency, a metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, contains a “large population nucleus and adjacent communities that have a high degree of integration with that nucleus.” 

To qualify as metropolitan prior to the proposed changes, an area needed to have a population of 50,000 or more. The OMB is now proposing to raise that standard to a population of 100,000. 

A micropolitan area resembles the structure of a metropolitan counterpart, but features a smaller urban core, the OMB says. 

Many areas will shift from a metropolitan to a micropolitan status if the new standards are implemented, and the lawmakers who oppose the move say this potential change “is of immediate and upmost concern.”

“Though these MSA standards and other Census Bureau data being deliberated as part of these recommendations are intended to affect OMB’s statistical and data collection activities, the recommendations would also affect eligibility for certain federal programs and grant opportunities,” the letter to Fairweather states. 

The lawmakers noted that if the recommendation to increase the required urbanized area population is accepted, 144 communities nationwide could lose eligibility for certain federal funding.

If the new standards pass, they will take effect in 2023. The public comment period is ongoing. 

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