COLUMBUS – Local and state officials, as well as Columbus’ congressional delegation, are urging the federal government to reject recommendations to change the definition of a metropolitan statistical area, which would result in 144 cities — including Columbus – losing the designation and putting key federal funding at risk.
Under the new proposal filed Jan. 19 under the Trump administration, the minimum population for an urban area to receive a metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, designation would be increased from 50,000 to 100,000, according to a proposal published in the Federal Register by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The change would downgrade more than a third of the current 392 MSAs to “micropolitan” statistical areas, including five in Indiana — Columbus, Terre Haute, Kokomo, Michigan City–LaPorte and Muncie.
The Columbus MSA, which includes all of Bartholomew County, had an estimated population of 83,779 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Losing the designation could have serious adverse implications for federal funding, economic development and the health care system in Columbus, said Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Greater Columbus (Indiana) Economic Development Corp. President Jason Hester and Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel, who have described the potential impact as “far-reaching” and “devastating.”
At stake are millions of dollars in funding allocated to Columbus from several federal housing, transportation and Medicare reimbursement programs that are tied to communities being designated an MSA.
A committee of representatives from federal statistical agencies recently recommended changing the definition of a metro area, saying it’s long overdue given that the U.S. population has more than doubled since the 50,000-person threshold was introduced in 1950, The Associated Press reported. Back then, about half of U.S. residents lived in metros, compared to 86% today.
The committee says the proposed change is purely for statistical purposes and not to be used for funding formulas, according to wire reports.
In practice, however, that is often how the designation is used.
In a March 12 letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Lienhoop said losing the designation could result in a loss of $3 million in federal funding for the city per year and “decimate” the city’s ability to operate its public transit system, which, according to the letter, relies on $800,000 each year in federal funding that is tied to MSA status.
Additionally, the change in designation could impact funding granted to the city through its current status as an “entitlement city” within U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program.
Entitlement cities receive guaranteed funding each year for low-income housing improvements, aging-in-place modifications, among other things, the letter states, city officials said.
Block grant funding has been used to renovate the Columbus Child Care Center and Sycamore Place Apartments in recent years.
Columbus received entitlement city status in 2004 under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, which uses the 50,000-person MSA threshold to determine eligibility.
But the concern is that future legislation governing the program would use the updated definition of MSA should it be approved.
“(Losing the designation) has the potential to impact the manner in which we maintain our streets, the manner in which we manage our transit system, the housing block grants that we receive might be affected,” Lienhoop said. “The ramifications could be far-reaching.”
The opposition from local officials comes as scores of city leaders and rural researchers across the country also urge the Office of Management and Budget to reject the proposal, according to wire reports.
Last week, Columbus’ congressional delegation – Rep. Greg Pence, R-Indiana; Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana; and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana – joined in opposition.
On March 19, Young and Braun, wrote a joint letter to the Office of Management and Budget, urging the office to deny the proposed changes and retain the current MSA definition, saying that the potential loss of federal funding would be “devastating” for cities such as Columbus.
“Dropping the MSA designation for these specific cities not only will cause a negative impact on the municipalities themselves, but the ripple effect will be felt by a wider range of our constituents that rely on these cities as economic drivers in their areas of the state,” Young and Braun stated in the letter.
Additionally, a bipartisan group of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana, including Pence, wrote a separate letter dated March 19 in which they voiced opposition to the proposed change and that downgrading cities like Columbus would “obstruct economic recovery and growth within each of our cities” and “lose out on significant federal resources.”
“I wholeheartedly opposed this recommended MSA reclassification and am pleased join a number of my Hoosier colleagues in Congress in expressing that opposition to the Acting Director of the federal Office of Management and Budget,” Pence said in a statement. “Should the Biden Administration follow through on this proposal, Hoosier cities like Muncie and Columbus would lose out on significant federal resources. We must protect working-class cities that are the bedrock of America.”
This article was made available through the Hoosier State Press Association.