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Monday, December 31, 2012

U.S. definitions of 'frontier' and 'remote' could shift; you have until Friday, Jan. 4 to give feds your view

The federal government is accepting comments until Friday, Jan. 4, on possible new definitions for "frontier" and "remote" areas. If the definitions are properly changed, "It will allow future government programs to more effectively target those areas," Aleta Botts of the University of Kentucky writes for the Daily Yonder.

"While this new method is not linked to specific programs yet, it very well could be in the future," writes Botts, an agricultural and rural policy specialist. "Rural areas are notoriously hard to define, and the most rural areas in particular can be difficult to describe in objective, useful terms. The phrase 'trying to pin Jell-O to a wall' comes to mind. Nevertheless, the way you define a rural area determines which communities are eligible to apply for rural water improvements, what businesses can apply for low-interest loans, which areas are entitled to special Medicare reimbursements for their health services, and many other program questions."

Frontier and remote areas have been defined by population density (fewer than six people per square mile) and by county (as opposed to zip codes or census tracts), Botts notes, calling those "pretty blunt tools, since a more dense population might still be located a distance away from an urban center. And counties vary greatly in size." The proposed change would measure population density per square kilometer, about 61 percent smaller than a square mile, and define remoteness by travel time from various population centers.

There would be four levels of remoteness, developed by the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. Level 1 and Level 4 appear below; you can click on a map for a larger image, or click here for the four-page PDF with all four levels. For detailed data by ZIP code, go here.
ERS is working with the Office of Rural Health Policy in the Department of Health and Human Services on the proposal. Comments can be sent to shirsch@hrsa.gov, mailed to Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, 5600 Fishers Lane, Parklawn Building 5A-05, Rockville MD 20857; or faxed to 301-443-2803. (Read more)

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