Charleston, WV (WOAY) – Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) urges Dr. Spiro Stefanou, Administrator of the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to fulfill research to classify rural areas in West Virginia correctly.
The ERS develops Rural-Urban Commuting Area (RUCA) Codes to define rural communities nationwide.
The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) uses the codes to determine eligibility for rural health grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The system for defining rural areas fails to account for Appalachia’s unique geographic characteristics, leading to the exclusion of several West Virginia counties from critical federal funding.
In December 2019, the federal government passed the Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, directing the USDA ERS to conduct research to ensure rural communities across the country are correctly classified.
The same congressional directive was in the 2021 and 2022 Appropriations bills. However, the ERS hasn’t completed the first phase of the research directed by Congress.
In September 2020, following Senator Manchin’s efforts, HRSA released a proposed rule to update their classification methodology for rural areas. In October 2020, Senator Manchin submitted comments to HRSA on these proposed changes applauding the inclusion of several West Virginia counties and urging the Administration to provide an exception for mountainous terra.
“West Virginia is the only state within the Appalachian Mountain region. It also has a higher mean elevation than any state in the east. According to the Census Bureau, West Virginia is the third most rural state in the nation, with 51.8% of the state’s population living in rural areas,” says Senator Manchin.
Senator Manchin continued, “However, several of West Virginia’s Critical Access Hospitals, Rural Health Clinics, and other rural providers lie in counties HRSA has been designated as urban. This is concerning, as these critical providers have been ineligible for necessary FORHP grant opportunities.”
“It has been more than three years since the initial congressional authorization of this project. It is also more than ten months past the date from when Phase I was initially supposed to be completed. These continued delays are unacceptable.”