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North Dakota city leaders fear a huge loss of federal funding if metro status changes

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 5:58 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Defining an area as metropolitan might not seem like a big deal, but to those cities in North Dakota that may lose their metropolitan status, it makes a lot of difference.

Metropolitan cities are currently described as towns with 50,000 or more people.

But a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget at the federal level is recommending it be increased to 100,000 people, hurting many mid-sized cities across the United States.

Bismarck and 140 other communities across the U.S. could get their metropolitan status demoted to micropolitan.

“It’s an affront to rural America. It’s a slap in the face to those ‘flyover states.’ It does not do us any good,” said Bismarck Mayor Steven Bakken.

It may also impact Grand Forks, along with Minot, which after the latest census, is just now on pace to become a metropolitan area.

“This could put North Dakota cities like Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks, at risk of losing access to multiple sources of federal funding,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Although this discussion is happening at the federal level, it would directly affect the cities themselves.

Bakken brought to the attention of our congressional delegation that Bismarck would be at risk of losing up to four million federal dollars.

“It hurts us in terms of the federal block grant funding we get, in terms of the pay rates for federal employees in our communities, in terms of reimbursements for our hospitals. And then all of the statistics we use for labor, employment, and hiring and all of those kinds of things we wouldn’t be getting for our communities,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The federal statistical agencies who made the proposal said this won’t change any funding formulas.

However, a lot of federal programs rely on population information from metro and nonmetro statuses to determine how much federal funding should go where.

“You’re removing somebody’s ability to choose their quality of life and where they want to live because they have to follow some of the services that are supported by some of those numbers and those federal dollars,” said Bakken.

If the proposal were to pass, Fargo would be the only metro area in the state.

Bakken said that could lead people, who are dependent on federally funded services, to move away from their cities.

The Metro Statistical Area definition hasn’t been changed since the 1950s, about 70 years ago.

If it does change, however, Bakken said Bismarck may just barely reach the 100,000 person requirement to maintain as a metro.

But that remains unknown as the deadline for U.S. Census totals continue to be pushed back.

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