Federal officials should suspend movement to reclassify communities | Notice
How do you know if you live in the city or in the countryside? For some, any place without Whole Foods is rural. For others, a traffic light is a harbinger of urban sprawl.
The federal government has over 10 definitions of what is rural and what is not. However, one of them can change. And that could have big implications for our Texas counties.
The Federal Office for Management and Budget defines areas as urban if they contain a community of at least 50,000 people, called a metropolitan statistical area. In January, the OMB proposed changing the minimum population threshold for MSAs from 50,000 to 100,000. The new definition would move 251 counties nationwide – and 14 in Texas – out of the metropolitan category.
With the push of a computer key, nearly 820,000 Texans in cities such as San Angelo, Longview, Wichita Falls and Victoria would be recategorized. In the popular vernacular, they would move from urban to rural. I have visited a lot of rural Texas and I can tell you, none of these towns are rural. Each has a target, at least one Starbucks, and other non-rural characteristics.
But does it really matter how a federal agency categorizes a place? The problem is that this definition is used by federal agencies to distribute funds. Even though the OMB insists that agencies do not use the definitions to award grants, funds for highways, housing, and community block grants are all issued in part based on the definition of the Metropolitan OMB. We don’t know exactly how many federal agencies use OMB definitions to allocate funds, but a few examples include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Housing and Finance Agency, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, so it’s clear. will have broader implications.
Texas Rural Funders is a collaboration of funders that aims to bring attention and resources to rural Texas. We are deeply immersed in rural Texas and the issues that affect rural Texans, their businesses, families and communities. We are a welcoming bunch, but we want communities in Texas to know the potentially huge impact of this seemingly harmless movement.
The new OMB definition has been in the works for years. The current metropolitan definition was developed after the 1950 census. Since then, the country’s population has doubled, so the OMB estimated that the minimum population size of a metropolitan area should also double, to 50,000. to 100,000 inhabitants.
No one knows what this will mean for all federal programs using this definition. It appears that the OMB made its recommendation for statistical reasons. However, there will likely be consequences in the real world. This could alter federal reimbursements for health care costs in already underserved communities. This could mean less mortgage lending in rural areas, which are identified as underserved by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and less public transport.
According to the Brookings Institution, the current non-metropolitan county has an average population of 23,240. The proposed reclassification means that non-metropolitan regions would have an average of 75,533 inhabitants. Cities of these medium sizes are different in every way.
In Texas, the 14 counties that would be reclassified are 3.6 times larger than the counties currently in the rural category. And the new definition of non-metropolitan areas would encompass communities ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 people. However, despite the differences in such a wide range, they would be considered the same when applying for federal grants from certain government programs. There are likely to be unintended consequences for communities, large and small, at either end of the newly defined category.
There is a simple solution to this problem. The OMB should defer any action on its proposal. It should bring together stakeholders, rural experts and local leaders to consider the consequences of such a change. Let’s see what effect this new definition of rural would have on 170 counties in Texas before it was made official.
KELTY GARBEE is Executive Director of Texas Rural Funders, a philanthropic coalition that works with rural communities to develop and implement solutions to their unique needs.