New criteria for defining urban, rural areas could impact funding

NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) – The landscape of the country is shifting to become more urban, with a 6.4 percent increase between 2010 and 2020 based on the most recent census data.

While North Carolina is becoming more urban too, it still has the second largest rural population in the country. Part of the reason though is new criteria for what defines an area as rural versus urban.

“Before this decade, any areas of these urban conglomerates of 2,500 or more were considered urban. In 2020, they changed that, so it’s any area of 5,000 or more,” explained NC Demographer Mike Cline. That change can have a major financial impact on communities. “Federal agencies and legislation and even state agencies as well, use those urban and rural definitions to distribute federal dollars,” Cline explained.

Another category of funding eligibility is populations from 50,000 to 200,000 people. If cities fall between that, they may be eligible for more grant funding.

“New Bern drops below that 50,000 threshold, in 2010 it just barely surpassed the threshold, but in 2020 it’s just below that threshold,” Cline said.

“The New Bern area MPO is not made up just by the city of New Bern. It’s made up of five jurisdictions, which include Bridgeton, Trentwood, Riverbend, the city and Craven County,” explained Kim Maxey with the New Bern area Metropolitan Planning Organization, adding that they’ve worked to ensure the effects of the criteria change are minimal despite eligibility adjustments.

“Our transportation funding formula remains strong and solid, and we do not anticipate that this will impact the funding we receive,” she explained.

It’s important to note that, just because a community is changing its population designation, it doesn’t immediately mean it will get less funding. It just means their funding is at risk of change because some grant programs focus on communities of a certain size.

Those 2020 numbers affect funding for this entire decade, until 2030.