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Politics and Government

Biden Proposal To Change What Counts As A Metro Area Could Heavily Affect Pa., State College

People walking on the sidewalk in downtown State College
Min Xian
A proposed change to what counts as a metropolitan area could have big impacts on small metro towns like State College.


The Biden Administration is considering changing how many people have to live somewhere for it to count as a metropolitan area. That could have a big impact on Pennsylvania, experts testified during a public hearing hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Wednesday.

Right now, areas with 50,000 or more people are considered metropolitan areas. The proposal, recommended by the Office of Management and Budget in January, would double the threshold to 100,000. 

Experts said nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvanians would be reclassified from metro to non-metro status under that change, the most of any state. 

That could mean loss of federal funding for hospitals, higher education and transportation. It could also mean more competition for funding among local governments. 

Anthony Pipa, senior fellow of Global Economy and Development at Brookings, told lawmakers that while the Office of Management and Budget states the Metropolitan Statistical Area standards are to be used for statistical purposes only, there are many federal programs and policies that rely on the definition when determining funding and financial incentives. 

Kim Wheeler, executive director of SEDA-COG, a public economic development agency in central Pennsylvania, said places like State College, Williamsport and Bloomsburg may face “unintended impacts” if reclassified.

“This is likely to be interpreted by developers, investors and funders as a change in either the region’s activity, growth potential or its significance,” Wheeler said. 

She added that small metro areas in the commonwealth are critical economic hubs. Centre County, where State College is, continues to see population growth and serves as an economic driver for six surrounding counties, she said.

The change was proposed because the U.S. population has doubled since the current standard came into being in 1950. Panelists at the hearing said that alone is not enough for a change and more justification is needed. 


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