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 or not the Commission can provide grants within a county as well as what level of match is required of Commission funded projects. 

Distress Criteria for 2023


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 it total Appropriations to projects in counties falling within this designation. Commission grants within Distressed Counties only 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 first 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.  
  • 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 funding 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 Benefits (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 2023 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 2023. If a Significant Benefit waiver is required, the documentation supporting the waiver request, which includes an executed Significant Benefit Waiver together with clear and convincing evidence of a project’s economic impact beyond the border of the municipality, must be submitted together with the Letter of Interest

              Forest Economy Program (FEP) – 2024 Spring Round – TBA
              Forest Economy Program (FEP) – Fall Round – Deadline of 5:00 p.m. September 22, 2023
              2024 CATALYST Program (formerly SEID & IIJA) – TBA in 2024

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 apply.

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

Please see NBRC’s 2023 program materials for more information on the Significant Benefit Waiver Process.