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Metro threshold to remain at 50,000 people, securing Longview's federal monies

Longview Metropolitan Area

A map shows the borders of the Longview Metropolitan Area.

A proposal to downgrade Longview’s U.S. Census designation was not approved this month, securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual federal funding for local housing.

The federal Office of Management and Budget considered doubling the threshold of what it considers a “metropolitan statistical area,” or MSA, from a population threshold of 50,000 to 100,000, last winter.

The proposal threatened the Census classification — a popular funding benchmark — for 144 cities across the country, including Longview.

The Office of Management and Budget released a statement July 13, stating the designation would not change during the department’s review of classifying statistical areas as part of the 2020 U.S. Census.

The definitions create uniformity in measuring figures like unemployment and GDP nationally, according to the department. The committee that reviews the definitions said thresholds may need to be increased because definitions “have not kept pace with population growth.” The committee plans to review thresholds again during the 2030 U.S. Census.

Status perks

The Longview MSA has a population of 63,952, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, meaning the location meets the current metro threshold, but would have missed the proposed number by roughly 36,000. The area includes the City of Longview, Kelso, Rainier and unincorporated areas of Cowlitz County.

Perks of being an MSA include automatic HUD Community Development Block Grants to fund housing and infrastructure for lower-income residents, as opposed to competing for state allocations with other municipalities. This year, Longview received about $330,000 in automatic HUD Community Development Block Grants, according to the city.

The designation also brings in Department of Transportation funds to support the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation group that encompasses Longview, Kelso, Rainier and unincorporated areas of Cowlitz County, said Executive Director of the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments Bill Fashing.

Fashing said the federal government uses the Census to distribute other funds as well.

“U.S. Census data is used for distribution for almost all federal dollars that come out of Washington,” he said.

Fashing said he wrote a letter to the federal government last winter requesting the definition remain unchanged, and encouraged other local municipalities to do the same.

The definition change would have also affected the Mount-Vernon-Anacortes area in northwest Washington, Walla Walla in the east and centrally located Wenatchee.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington wrote a letter to the Office of Management and Budget in March also requesting the definition remain unchanged, and later praised the recent decision in a statement.

“For Longview, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and other medium-sized cities in our state, I’ll keep fighting to make sure they get the federal support they need to not only get through this pandemic, but build back stronger and fairer,” she said.

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