Merkley, Wyden introduce legislation to protect Job Corps program

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have joined colleagues in introducing legislation to prevent the removal of federal funds from Job Corps Civilian Conservation Corps, including Timber Lake Job Corps near Estacada.

The Job Corps Protection Act would block the federal government from using funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in the United States. It would also prohibit any federal government agency from making changes to agreements that operate Job Corps facilities, which would prevent them from being transferred out of the U.S. Forest Service.

Merkley and Wyden were joined by U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

On May 24, the U.S. Department of Labor accepted a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating the Forest Service will withdraw from operating Job Corps Civilian Conservation centers. At some Job Corps centers, operations will continue under new contract operators or by a partnership overseen by the Department of Labor.

Timber Lake Job Corps on the Mt. Hood National Forest is one of nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers proposed for deactivation, along with centers in Anaconda, Mont.; Laona, Wis.; Ozark, Ark.; Coeburn, Va.; White Swan, Wash.; Frenchburg, Ken.; Cherokee, N.C.; and Pine Knot, Ken.

Job Corps centers employ 1,100 people, operate on 17 national forests and grasslands, and annually provide training to more than 3,000 youths and young adults.

“We must reverse the Trump Administration’s reckless decision to undercut Civilian Conservation Centers,” Merkley said in a press release. “In Oregon, these facilities not only make our communities safer by reducing the risk of wildfires, but also provide valuable job training for at-risk youth in rural areas. We should be supporting these centers, not jeopardizing public health and eliminating meaningful job opportunities by closing or privatizing them.”

Wyden noted that the programs have helped many youths meet their future goals.

“These programs have a proven track record of helping young Oregonians get the job training they need to succeed while supporting essential management of our treasured public lands and wildfire prevention,” he said. “Keeping Job Corps up and running for future generations shouldn’t be controversial. Congress should act and stop the dangerous efforts of this administration to undermine the program’s success.”

On Wednesday, Merkley was one of the leaders of a group of 18 senators and 33 representatives who pushed USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to reverse their decision to close and withdraw operating from the Job Corps centers.

“After a difficult year of natural disasters and with hurricane and wildfire season quickly approaching, now is precisely the wrong time to be reducing capacity at CCCs,” the members of Congress wrote in a letter addressed to USDA and Labor leaders. “These centers not only help support these underserved youth and young adults with invaluable job training, but they also provide essential capacity for the U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its mission and provide economic opportunities in rural areas.”

They also noted that rural development is a core mission of the USDA.

“CCC students provide significant services to rural America,” the letter continued. “Have you conducted an impact assessment with respect to the economic impact on the rural communities affected by this announcement?”

The members of Congress also requested additional information about the decision to alter or close the centers, including plans to ensure public lands are maintained, along with any additional costs or requirements that these plans may require.