The federal definition of ‘rural’ — times 15

June 8, 2013

The U.S. government has at least 15 different official definitions of the word “rural,” including 11 at the Agriculture Department alone. These definitions apply to different programs, often determining which local governments are eligible for rural-aid money. This week, the Senate is considering a farm bill that would pare the list down slightly. In the meantime, here are the 15 definitions in use today:

1. Any place with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants, and not located adjacent to an urban area.

Department: Agriculture.

Used for a variety of loan and grant programs, all meant to foster rural development.

The legalese: “Except as otherwise provided . . . the terms rural and ‘rural area’ mean any area other than (i) a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants; and (ii) the urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to such a city or town.”

2. Any place outside a town, city or “urban cluster” with more than 2,500 residents.

Department: Census Bureau.

Used to define America’s rural population.

The legalese: “The Census Bureau identifies two types of urban areas: Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people; Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. ‘Rural’ encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.”

3. Any place with 20,000 or fewer inhabitants.

Department: Agriculture.

Used for loans and grants for “community facilities” in rural areas.

The legalese: “The terms ‘rural’ and ‘rural area’ mean a city, town, or unincorporated area that has a population of not more than 20,000 inhabitants.”

4. Any place with 10,000 or fewer inhabitants.

Department: Agriculture.

Used for aid for water and waste-disposal systems.

The legalese: “The terms ‘rural’ and ‘rural area’ mean a city, town, or unincorporated area that has a population of no more than 10,000 inhabitants.”

5. Any place with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

Department: Agriculture.

Used for aid for improvements in telecommunications systems.

The legalese: “Rural area means any area of the United States, its territories and insular possessions . . . not included within the boundaries of any incorporated or unincorporated city, village or borough having a population exceeding 5,000 inhabitants.”

6. Any place that’s not in a town or city with more than 2,500 residents.

Department: Agriculture.

Used by farm-credit associations making housing loans.

The legalese: “The terms ‘rural’ and ‘rural area’ mean any open country, or any place, town, village, or city which is not part of or associated with an urban area and which (1) has a population not in excess of 2,500 inhabitants.” [This definition includes exceptions for places with populations up to 10,000 if they are of “rural character,” and for areas with up to 20,000 people if they are “rural in character” and have “a serious lack of mortgage credit for lower and moderate-income families.”]

7.

Any place that’s not in a town with 25,000 inhabitants or more.

Department: Agriculture.

Used for certain lending programs for rural community development.

The legalese: “All territory of a State that is not within the outer boundary of any city having a population of 25,000 or more, according to the latest decennial census.”

8. Areas with a population density between seven and 1,000 people per square mile.

Department: Veterans Affairs

Used to determine areas served by Office of Rural Health.

The legalese: “Rural Area: Any non-urban or non-highly rural area.” [The VA considers “urban areas” to have a density above 1,000 people per square mile and “highly rural” areas to have a density of less than seven people per square mile.]

9. Places inside a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population density of less than 20 people per square mile.

Department: Agriculture.

Used by the National Rural Development Partnership.

The legalese: “The term ‘rural area’ means . . . all territory within any standard metropolitan statistical area within a census tract having a population density of less than 20 persons per square mile.”

10. Any place determined by a state government to be rural.

Department: Education

Used for grants to rural institutions of higher education.

The legalese: “The term ‘rural area’ means an area that is defined, identified, or otherwise recognized as rural by a governmental agency of the State in which the area is located. “

11. Any place in the County of Hono­lulu that is judged to be “not urban in character.”

Department: Agriculture

Used to determine what areas of Hawaii are eligible for rural-aid programs.

The legalese: “The Secretary may designate any part . . . as a rural area if the Secretary determines that the part is not urban in character, other than any area included in the Honolulu Census Designated Place.”

12. Any place in Puerto Rico that is judged to be “not urban in character.”

Department: Agriculture.

Used to determine what areas of Puerto Rico are eligible for rural-aid programs.

The legalese: “The Secretary may designate any part . . . as a rural area if the Secretary determines that the part is not urban in character, other than any area [in] the San Juan Census Designated Place.”

13. Any area with a “Rural-Urban Commuting Area code” between 4 and 10.

Department: Health and Human Services.

Used by the Office of Rural Health Policy.

The legalese: “The Office of Rural Health Policy accepts all non-metro counties as rural and uses an additional method of determining rurality called the Rural-Urban Commuting Area (RUCA) codes. . . . These are based on Census data which is used to assign a code to each Census Tract. Tracts inside Metropolitan counties with the codes 4-10 are considered rural.”

14. A populated area with boundaries at least 40 miles apart, which is not contiguous to a large urban area, and considered “rural in character.”

Department: Agriculture.

Used by various rural development loan and grant programs.

The legalese: “An urbanized area . . . that has 2 points on its boundary that are at least 40 miles apart [and] is not contiguous or adjacent to a city or town that has a population of greater than 150,000 inhabitants or an urbanized area of such city or town.”

15. An area within an urbanized area that lies within a quarter-mile of a rural area and is “rural in character.”

Department: Agriculture.

Used by various rural development loan and grant programs.

The legalese: “An area within an urbanized area . . . that is within 1/4-mile of a rural area.”

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