MANSFIELD -- It doesn't appear Mansfield and Richland County will lose its status as a Metropolitan Statistical Area, which should mean the continued flow of millions of federal dollars in the future.
In January, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced it was considering changing requirements for the MSA designation.
The change would have doubled the current population requirement from the current 50,000 to 100,000 for the city anchoring the metro area.
However, U.S. Sen Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Tuesday via email that OMB has dropped the proposal, citing his own efforts "to ensure fairness for smaller metropolitan areas."
"Communities in Ohio and across the United States count on this designation for federal funding that goes towards important programs," Portman said.
"The proposal would have threatened access to vital federal resources for nearly 150 communities across the country, including five in Ohio," the senator from Cincinnati said.
Communities in Ohio that would have been affected by this change include Mansfield. Lima and Springfield, as well as the Weirton-Steubenville and Wheeling, W.Va.-Ohio metropolitan areas.
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker said Wednesday he was pleased with the decision.
"The City of Mansfield relies on state and federal dollars to help with projects and improvements to the area. It was suggested and discussed by government officials, that if Mansfield was reclassified, there would be monies the city would not qualify for or not receive," Theaker said.
The mayor said many local elected officials and business leaders lobbied to keep the current rules in place.
"We are moving Mansfield forward and want to continue to make it a place where people want to work, worship, play and raise a family. It is my goal to continue improving Mansfield and the community. With continued government funding we can do just that," Theaker said.
Jotika Shetty, executive director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission, sldo praised the OMB decision to drop the change.
"This was anticipated to have a significant impact on the City of Mansfield potentially changing the eligibility for federal funds in Community Development Block Grant, HOME and other programs used to support housing and social services within the city," Shetty said Wednesday.
"These programs assist the most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, jobless, disabled, and people with low incomes. As we struggle with the economic downturn and social turmoil caused by COVID 19, the loss of funding could have further hindered the capacity to rebuild and heal," Shetty said.
"Retaining our MSA status will continue to position Mansfield as a regional center to attract strong economic and real estate growth," Shetty said.
Jodie Perry, president/CEO at Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, said she was thrilled to hear the news on Tuesday.
"We had heard a month ago that they were taking a closer look at it with the new administration coming in," she said. "There was some evidence it was being paused and to hear it was cancelled was great news," Perry said Wednesday.
"For a community of this size to lose funding at this point in time would have been catastrophic," Perry said. "The data that comes with the MSA designation will help us and the funding will allow us to continue to rebuild in the county."
The OMB announcement followed Portman’s introduction of the bipartisan Metropolitan Areas Protection and Standardization Act (MAPS) to help protect communities across the country from the possible consequences of the proposed change.
Last month, community leaders across Ohio voiced their support for the MAPS Act, Portman said.
“Thanks to our hard work and the widespread support for the bipartisan MAPS Act, which would have required OMB to provide a public report to Congress estimating the county-level impact and justifying the scientific basis for any proposed change to an existing statistical area standard, we have protected communities across Ohio and the entire country," Portman said.
MSAs were created to standardize and identify the nation’s largest centers of population and activity. Metropolitan and non-metropolitan designations are used by agencies across the federal government to determine eligibility for funding and services. However, the federal government has not provided a full analysis of which programs use this designation.
While losing MSA status may not necessarily result in a loss of federal funds, the uncertainty is concerning and warrants careful deliberation of unintended consequences of the proposed redesignation, Portman said.
Mansfield's population, according to the U.S. Census slipped below 50,000 almost 15 years ago and is now around 46,600. But city officials almost a decade ago worked a deal with the feds to make sure Mansfield remained eligible for programs that benefit low- to moderate-income residents.
At the time of the OMB proposal six months ago, Adrian Ackerman, community development and housing director for Mansfield, said the city receives just more than $1 million annually in Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program through the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
"I haven't seen for sure anything that is an immediate threat to the federal grants," Ackerman said earlier this year. "Our main concern is changing the designation that could eventually lead to the government seeking to change the grant status.
In recent years, these federal dollars have gone to improving local neighborhoods and assisting homeowners and also to groups like Mansfield Metropolitan Housing, Catholic Charities, Richland County Transit, Area Agency on Aging, Harmony House and Mansfield UMADAOP, all of whom provide direct assistance to residents.
There are also concerns losing the MSA designation could impact the area's ability to attract new companies and business investment. Mansfield was ranked seventh in the nation in 2020 for new business investment for cities its size.
Perry said earlier this year many local elected leaders, business leaders and those run who run local organizations and nonprofits wrote letters to OMB in opposition to the change.
She said U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson and U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, both of whom represent parts of Mansfield/Richland County, wrote letters, as Portman and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
In their joint letter, sent earlier this year, Balderson and Gibbs said Mansfield is the catalyst for economic development in the region.
"The potential loss of federal funding would negatively impact the investment the community has made in economic development in the region," the congressmen wrote.
"They have tirelessly worked to expand businesses, bring jobs into the area, and ensure economic success in the region for years to come. Given the negative consequences this would bring to Ohio, we strongly and respectfully request you reconsider these proposed changes to the MSA minimum population threshold," Balderson and Gibbs said.