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MSA proposal has 'significant consequences'

March 29, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe have urged the Office of Management and Budget to abandon its proposal doubling the minimum population threshold for a Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, from 50,000 to 100,000 people. In this guest column, they explain why maintaining the current definition of MSA is needed and what actions they've taken to preserve the rule.

A recent proposed change to the definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, would eliminate this status for Hot Springs and more than 140 other cities across the country. Three additional communities in Arkansas, including Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Texarkana, would also lose this important classification. The federal delegation and local leaders are working to prevent this downgrade.

The plan by the Office of Management and Budget would double the minimum requirement for an MSA "core area" from the current threshold of a population of 50,000 that has been in place since 1950. We understand the interest in updating the decades-old policy, but the recommendation fails to take into account the ramifications on federal funding and economic development that would no doubt harm many cities, including some here in Arkansas.

While OMB advises the MSA designation be used "solely for statistical purposes," the reality is federal agencies use this information for disbursing tax dollars and economic developers tell us that the greater Hot Springs region would no longer be considered for many significant job-creating prospects should this change be implemented.

While funding from the numerous programs and grants varies from year to year, our region could lose millions of dollars over a 10-year period, creating budget shortfalls in transportation, housing and health care.

During the comment period that ended March 19, we shared with the Biden administration our concerns about OMB's recommendations and why this proposal would be bad for Hot Springs. Joining us were over 800 others across the nation writing to oppose this ill-conceived proposal, including members of Congress.

Last week, Sen. Boozman led a bipartisan letter to OMB Acting Director Rob Fairweather urging the agency to abandon plans to alter the current MSA definition. "The MSA metric has become a critical tool so broadly used that changing it without considering its far-reaching impacts is shortsighted," Boozman, Sen. Tom Cotton and 23 other senators wrote in the letter.

Given the significant consequences associated with OMB's proposal, we will do all we can to stop the agency from changing the MSA definition. This is not the time to implement policies that have costly, wide-ranging financial implications for communities that are striving to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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