Frontier is now defined as a county with six or fewer people per square mile. The new definition would redefine frontier in terms of an area's proximity to metropolitan areas, not by population density. HHS says this would allow counties with fewer than 6 people per square mile, but that contain a major city, to be deemed "frontier." For example, Coconino County, Arizona, contains Flagstaff, but most of the county's outlying areas of the county have fewer than 6 people per square mile. Those areas would be able to access certain programs and funding previously unavailable to them because the county's overall population density was too high. HHS says this will allow researchers and political scientists to more accurately categorize the country, Terris reports.
However, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana say they are worried the new designation would create unintended consequences. In a letter to the Office of Rural Health Policy, the Democrats wrote that the expanding the frontier could have "major impact on programs that rely on the way that rural and frontier lands have been designated" in the past, Terris reports. There are many grants and federal dollars available to rural and frontier areas that aren't available for urban areas, including education and health care. There is fear that re-designation could make it harder for counties to compete for funding for services and programs. (Read more)