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Metropolitan Statistical Area threshold retained after push from Parson, congressional delegates

The Biden administration is maintaining current standards on federal support for rural communities after Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri congressional delegates questioned proposed changes to the population threshold.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) earlier this month, the group of Missouri leaders — led by Congressman Jason Smith — sought additional information on a proposal to increase the population threshold for communities to qualify as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from 50,000 to 100,000. The group said the proposed threshold would cut smaller communities’ eligibility for benefits like the Community Development Block Grant and Medicaid reimbursement programs. OMB announced this week it would retain its current standards. 

An MSA is a region consisting of a city and surrounding communities tied together by economic and social factors, typically with a high population density and economic activity. The designation is used to determine eligibility for federal programs in addition to statistical analysis. The 50,000 population standard was introduced in 1950. 

OMB revises its standards every 10 years, taking recommendations from the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee and accepting public comment. Despite maintaining the current standard for the next decade, OMB recognized concerns that MSA thresholds had not kept pace with population growth and said it would continue researching options for its 2030 update in a notice

Smith, the ranking Republican on the U.S. House’s Budget Committee, said current standards benefitted rural communities and gave smaller areas the opportunity to receive adequate federal funding. 

“The current MSA threshold helps give small and rural Missouri communities a fair shot at getting federal assistance and access to programs for the people who live there,” Smith said. “With this designation in place for the next 10 years, towns and cities across America, and the workers and families who call them home, will continue to have access to vital services.”

The coalition called on the Biden administration to provide additional information on federal programs using the MSA to determine funding as well as a report on the economic impact the change would have on rural communities. 

“The people of Missouri represent the honest, hard-working character that is essential to the success of our nation,” Parson previously said. “Our federal government should support these communities, not make it harder for businesses and families to thrive.”

U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley joined Congressmen Sam Graves, Billy Long, and Blaine Luetkemeyer alongside Congresswomen Vicky Hartzler and Ann Wagner on the letter. Other lawmakers from Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio also pushed back on the proposal.

“Glad to see OMB isn’t moving forward with a proposed change to the federal definition of ‘city,’” Blunt said. “This proposal could have negatively impacted federal funding in Missouri communities like St. Joe, Cape Girardeau, Joplin, and Jeff City.”

Per the MSA’s Standards Review Committee, the change would have removed the designation from 144 areas across the country covering nearly 19 million people.