Assessing Distress in NBRC Counties

By statute, the Commission is required to annually assess the level of economic and demographic distress among the counties in its service area. Assessing distress is important as the resulting designations reflect whether the Commission can provide grants within a county as well as what level of match is required of Commission funded projects. 

Distress Criteria for 2024

Counties are designated as Distressed, Transitional,  or Attainment.

Distressed Counties

40 U.S.C., Subtitle V states that “distressed” counties are those that “have high rates of poverty, unemployment, or outmigration” and “are the most severely and persistently economic distressed and underdeveloped.” The NBRC is required to allocate 50% of its total Appropriations to projects in counties falling within this designation. Commission grants within Distressed Counties require a 20% match. 

Transitional Counties

Counties that are "transitional” counties “have recently suffered high rates of poverty, unemployment, or outmigration” or “are economically distressed and underdeveloped.” Commission grants within Transitional Counties require a 50% match.

Attainment Counties

Finally, “attainment” counties are those that are neither “distressed” or “transitional.”  The Commission is not allowed to fund projects within an attainment county.

Exceptions to Attainment County Eligibility

In general, NBRC funds may not be provided to projects located within a designated “Attainment County.” However, there are opportunities to provide funding to projects within these  counties if any one of the following exceptions below is met.

  • Isolated Areas of Distress: When a county is designated as “Attainment” the Commission will automatically collect economic and demographic data within that county to identify “Isolated Areas of Distress.” Isolated areas of distress are municipalities that have high rates of poverty, unemployment, or outmigration.  
    The Commission publishes a list of Isolated Areas of Distress annually along with its county distress designations.  IADs within an Attainment County require a 50% match.
  • Multi-County or Multi-State Projects: A project within or that affects an Attainment County can be funded if it is part of a multi-county or multi-state project that includes at least one other Distressed or Transitional NBRC county. 
    Applicants should explain in their pre-application and application narrative how their project provides direct services or products in more than one county.  The required match will be the average of all counties where the project is taking place.  
  • Significant Benefit Waiver: (waiver required from applicant and/or co-applicant): An exception exists for projects located within an Attainment County that could bring significant economic benefits to NBRC Distressed or Transitional counties outside of that county. If your community or organization is located within an Attainment County, but outside of one of the identified “Isolated Areas of Distress” in the NBRC’s 2024 Distress Criteria, an exception to allow for an application is possible through the submission of a Significant Benefit Waiver.

Requesting a significant benefit waiver for consideration in 2024: An exception exists for projects located within an Attainment County but outside of one of the identified “Isolated Areas of Distress” or outside of the NBRC region in a member state that could bring significant economic benefits to NBRC Distressed or Transitional counties.

Process: If a Significant Benefit waiver is being requested, the documentation supporting the waiver request, which includes an executed Significant Benefit Waiver together with documentation to support the waiver, including clear and convincing evidence of a project’s economic impact to NBRC Distressed or Transitional counties, must be submitted in addition to the Pre-application required documentation

A Significant Benefit Waiver request requires approval by the Federal Co-Chair and the Governor’s Alternates of the four NBRC States. The significant benefit waiver must be approved for the entity to be considered eligible to be issued an invitation to submit an application for funding.

          Catalyst, Forest Economy and Timber for Transit Programs:

          March 15, 2024, by 5:00 p.m. – Spring Round

          September 6, 2024, by 5:00 p.m. – Fall Round

An applicant and/or co-applicant who is required to submit a Significant Benefit Waiver and fails to, will be deemed ineligible at the Pre-application phase of the process.

Please see NBRC’s 2024 program materials for more information on the Significant Benefit Waiver Process.