Wicker, Hyde-Smith, Colleagues Urge Administration to End Proposal that Would Harm Smaller Metropolitan Areas


March 23, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., are among a bipartisan group of 25 Senators who sent a letter that encourages Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Rob Fairweather to abandon plans to change the current definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

The OMB has proposed doubling the minimum population requirement for a MSA from 50,000 to 100,000 residents. A loss of MSA status could negatively affect federal funding in these communities and hinder economic development opportunities. This recommendation would eliminate MSA status for more than 140 cities across the country, including Hattiesburg.

“Though the consideration of nonstatistical uses is not the priority of OMB, ignoring the unwritten effects that MSAs have on the decision-making process of our government would cause major disruptions with grant and entitlement programs, medical reimbursements, economic development, housing initiatives, and more. The MSA metric has become a critical tool so broadly used that changing it without considering its far-reaching impacts is short-sighted,” the Senators wrote.

Senators John Boozman, R-Ark., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., authored the letter, which was also signed by Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Roger Marshall, M.D., R-Kan., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Todd Young, R-Ind.

A copy of the letter is below and accessible here.

Dear Mr. Fairweather:

We write today to respectfully request that you end the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) consideration of a proposal that would adversely affect over 140 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) across the United States. On January 19, 2021, OMB initiated a public comment period on a proposal that would double the minimum population requirement for a MSA from 50,000 to 100,000. Doing so would remove MSA status from cities across 45 states.

While initially it may seem as though some areas could easily retain MSA status under the proposed new threshold of 100,000, it later becomes clear that the 100,000-population benchmark is not applied to the entirety of the MSA. Instead, this standard is placed only on the “core Census Bureau-delineated urban area,” or the geographical boundary within the MSA which retains the highest population density. While a MSA may have a population of well over 100,000, if the core of the area does not meet this limited criteria, the area will be removed of its MSA status.

OMB’s position is that the definition and criteria of a MSA may be changed independent of all other considerations. Indeed, the posting in the Federal Register states:

OMB establishes and maintains these areas solely for statistical purposes. In reviewing and revising these areas, OMB does not take into account or attempt to anticipate any public or private sector nonstatistical uses that may be made of the delineations. These areas are not designed to serve as a general-purpose geographic framework applicable for nonstatistical activities or for use in program funding formulas.”  

Though the consideration of nonstatistical uses is not the priority of OMB, ignoring the unwritten effects that MSAs have on the decision-making process of our government would cause major disruptions with grant and entitlement programs, medical reimbursements, economic development, housing initiatives, and more. The MSA metric has become a critical tool so broadly used that changing it without considering its far-reaching impacts is short-sighted.

We strongly encourage OMB to preserve the current MSA definition to provide greater certainty for our cities and ensure their MSA status remains in place.