Sens. Ossoff and Warnock, Colleagues Call on Office of Management and Budget to Reject Change That Could Reduce Local Funding

Move by nonpartisan Committee would negatively impact half a dozen cities statewide

Ossoff and Warnock are fighting to protect housing and transportation programs

Washington, D.C. — Today, Georgia’s U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock joined Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and their colleagues in calling on the Office of Management and Budget to reject a proposed change to the classifications of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which determines funding for several housing and transportation projects as well as local government funding.

The proposed change would increase the threshold for a city to be designated a “metropolitan” area from having a population of 50,000 or higher to 100,000 or higher.

In Georgia, this would affect Albany, Brunswick, Dalton, Hinesville, Rome, and Valdosta.

The Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee proposed this change last summer, and OMB has to decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation.

In their bipartisan letter to the OMB, Sens. Ossoff and Warnock said the change would severely hurt local cities and their ability to receive critical federal support.

The Senators also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic very likely affected Census data, making it unfair to make changes using population data that likely undercounted cities’ populations.

“Given the anticipated negative impact of this proposed change and the inability to accurately track where Americans will choose to permanently settle following the coronavirus pandemic, we respectfully request that you reconsider the Committee’s recommendation to increase the minimum urban area population to qualify as a metropolitan statistical area, and instead establish a comprehensive process to engage with relevant stakeholders to fully evaluate the impact of such a change on the distribution of federal resources and services to arrive at any future proposed change,” the Senators wrote.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.

Several cities and local leaders across the state spoke out against the proposed rule change as well, noting the negative impact it would cause.

“Raising the MSA minimum population from 50,000 to 100,000 people would divert much needed federal funding away from Albany, Georgia, one of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic; Albany was a COVID-19 global hot spot. At a time when we need federal aid and support most, the loss of MSA status and associated funding would threaten our sustainable economic recovery; remove our ability to provide input into regional and state level infrastructure planning; widen the chronic transportation funding gaps that exist; and hamper community and economic development,” the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce said in a letter signed by Albany Mayor Bo Dorough, Scott Steiner, President & CEO Phoebe Putney Health System, Shelley Spires, CEO of Albany Area Primary Health Care, and other local leaders.

“Making this change would stop the flow of federal aid from the Community Development Block Grant funding, which would be particularly harmful for the City of Rome,” said Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel. “We rely upon the funding from this program as well as other federal programs to enhance the lives of our citizens by providing critical infrastructure and helping to attract new business investments to spur local economic growth.”

“The coastal Georgia region has experienced multiple severe weather events in recent years which has continued to challenge our infrastructure. Recent occurrences including Hurricane Matthew (2016), Hurricane Irma (2017), Hurricane Michael (2018), and Hurricane Dorian (2019) has led to chronic tidal flooding and Sea Level Rising issues in our city,” Mayor Cornell Harvey and the city of Brunswick wrote. “These are localized impacts that need to be considered in future housing, transportation and infrastructure planning. This loss of funding would further exacerbate our city’s issues with antiquated infrastructure and would further delay the execution of transportation related projects. The voices of our citizens would be silenced, and local projects may not be properly prioritized.”

Mayor Allen Brown of Hinesville warned of possible closure of the city’s Liberty Transit system without key federal transit dollars the city receives: “The City of Hinesville’s urban transit system, Liberty Transit, subsidizes fixed-route transit and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) paratransit services using these funds. The modification to the minimum population threshold from 50,000 to 100,000 would result in the loss of eligibility for Liberty Transit to participate in the urban transit funding program, representing a loss of more than $1,000,000 in annual federal funding, and would likely result in system closure.”

The Georgia Municipal Association also objected to the proposed change, noting cities designated from MSAs to micropolitan cities would negatively impact their abilities to attract jobs and even lower rural hospital reimbursement rates.

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