Sometimes the process of self-improvement begins with setting goals and developing an action plan. For rural communities looking for federal help, however, their process must start with deciphering which definition of “rural” works. As it turns out, the federal government offers 15 different definitions for the word, and each can have a different impact on funding availability.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Washington State’s Concord Monitor, has 11 different definitions of rural. Some describe rural as an area with less than 2,500 people (a law passed in 1949 established that limit), while another law from 1936 establishes rural areas as having fewer than 10,000 people. Various laws have also deemed 20,000 and even 50,000 as the population threshold.

The different applications of a population qualifications has created a challenging system for rural communities to negotiate. Oftentimes, they must check specific grants and federal laws to establish their own eligibility for funding. In certain situations, the towns and cities have had to become equally inventive for ensuring qualifications for programs.

In one North Carolina town, for instance, a rural education grant excluded a local charter school because it was inside a city’s limits. The city had 20,030 residents. So the city de-annexed the parcel of land where the school is. That put the school outside of city limits and eligible for the funding.

Read the full article at the Concord Monitor.