On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that as many as 144 cities are at risk to be downgraded in status from “metropolitan” statistical areas to “micropolitan” statistical areas. The adjustment could affect over a third of the current communities with the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) status and some worry how it will impact future funding decisions.
The report comes as many people begin to move out of cities for surrounding suburbs or small towns in an upsurge of teleworking during the coronavirus pandemic. According to The Hill, many city governments initiated focused efforts to get citizens to respond to the 2020 census, “as city officials around the country feared undercounted figures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues could lead to some areas losing much-needed federal funding. Some state-level officials mounted similar campaigns, most notably in California where officials spend nearly $190 million urging state residents to respond to the census.”
Some government officials in the cities are concerned over what the change in status could mean for their economic growth, as well as how it could affect ways in which they receive funds from the federal government.
According to the AP, “Under the new proposal, a metro area would have to have at least 100,000 people in its core city to count as an MSA, double the 50,000-person threshold that has been in place for the past 70 years. Cities formerly designated as metros with core populations between 50,000 and 100,000 people, like Bismarck and Sheboygan, would be changed to ‘micropolitan’ statistical areas instead.”
The recommendation was made by a group of people from federal statistical agencies and was directed at the Office of Management and Budget. They said that it is only for statistical use and the change in status is not meant to be utilized for funding formulas. However, the statuses tend to be used for those purposes.
Some officials in the cities are also worried about the ways that this change could impact programs such as Medicare reimbursement, housing, and transportation. Many of these programs are connected to cities having a status of metropolitan statistical areas.
An example of this can be found in Corvallis, Oregon. Patrick Rollens, a spokesman for the city of Corvallis, said that the state of Oregon sends specific sources to MSAs and any alteration of the city’s official status could cause a ripple effect, specifically when it comes to funding for transportation resources, according to the AP.
“I won’t lie. We would be dismayed to see our MSA designation go away. We aren’t a suburb of any other, larger city in the area, so this is very much part of our community’s identity,” Rollens said in an email. “Losing the designation would also have potentially adverse impacts on recruitment for local businesses, as well as Oregon State University.”
While the change doesn’t technically alter any funding formulations, some say that it could result in those changes in the future. This has made rural populations concerned, as well, since they might need to compete for their own federal funding in an atmosphere where more micropolitan areas exist.
Nancy Potok is a former chief statistician of the Office of Management and Budget and she helped create the new recommendations.
“There are winners and losers when you change these designations,” Potok acknowledged. “A typical complaint comes from economic development when you are trying to attract investments. You want to say you are part of a dynamic MSA. There’s a perception associated with it. If your area gets dumped out of an MSA, then you feel disadvantaged.”