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 2020 Applications 


Counties are designated as either 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.

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.  
  3. Significant Benefits (waiver required from applicant): An exception exists for non multi-county projects located within an Attainment County that could bring significant economic benefits to NBRC Distressed or Transitional counties outside that county. However, this exception requires a “Waiver” approved by the Federal Co-Chair and the Governors of the four NBRC State or their chosen alternatives. 

    Waiver process: Prospective applicants for NBRC funding should contact the NBRC Program Director if they believe their non-multi county project should be funding through a waiver.  Prospective applicants will need to show clear and convincing evidence of a project’s economic impact beyond the border of the municipalty.  

    NOTE: While applicants can add the waiver request to their funding application, the NBRC strongly recommends to have a waiver request to rule on before considering an application.  

    A waiver requires the approval of the Federal Co-Chair as well as a majority of the Governors of the four NBRC States or their chosen Alternates.