By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Last month, students and staff at the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (CCC) found out that the Center was one of nine nationwide slated to close. Federal, state, and local politicians around the country have spoken out against closures in their districts.
In a June 11 letter, N.C. State Representative Joe Sam Queen invited Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to visit the Oconaluftee CCC site for a tour of the facilities. “I believe in this program, and its positive impact on the Cherokee community speaks for itself. I think that you will agree once you meet the fine people who work at this center.”
State Rep. Queen called the Oconaluftee CCC “a bright light in western North Carolina” and wrote, “The Oconaluftee Job Corps currently ranks 18 out of the 124 centers in the United States. It prepares young adults for good jobs in construction, electrical work, forestry and firefighting, and it provides training for certified nurse assistants. It provides a direct pipeline to careers with Asplundh, Blue Ridge Home Health Care, Coca-Cola Corporation, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service.”
He added, “…the Job Corps is an incredible benefit to the local Cherokee community. The Center is a great supporter of local small businesses, and its students regularly volunteer for local events, daycares, youth clubs, and many other community services.”
The initial announcement for the closures came in a U.S. Forest Service all-employee email on May 24 in which Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen wrote, “This morning, Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue sent Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta a letter to request the transfer of all USDA Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers to the Department of Labor (DOL). The move is part of the Secretary’s goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient, and customer-focused department in the entire federal government.”
She went on to write that the DOL planned to continue the Job Corps program “under a different operator at most Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center locations except nine”; and Oconaluftee CCC was one of those nine.
Multiple U.S. senators and representatives, from both parties, have already voiced their opposition to the closings. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), along with Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), wrote a letter to Secretaries Perdue and Acosta on June 5 that was signed by 48 of their colleagues. The letter stated, “Civilian Conservation Centers operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states and aim to train over 4,000 youth and young adults, many of whom are at-risk individuals originating from low-income, rural communities. Rural development is a core USDA mission, and CCC students provide significant services to rural America…we strongly urge you maintain the CCC program.”
The same day, Sens. Tester, Daines, John Boozman (D-Ark.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tim Caine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced the Job Corps Protection Act (S. 1736) which has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
The full text of the bill is not yet available on Congress.gov, but information from Sen. Tester’s office notes that the bill “blocks the administration from using federal government funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in the United States”.
Sen. Tester said in a statement, “Without important resources like Job Corps, we are making it harder than ever for young people in rural areas to access the job training they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”
Sen. Boozman added, “Job training is often hard to come by in rural America. Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers fill the void and offer invaluable skills training in underserved areas. We should be looking for opportuntities to expand workforce development programs in rural America as opposed to finding reasons to reduce them.”
The Oconaluftee CCC forged recent partnerships with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (August 2017), EBCI Cooperative Extension office (September 2017), Cherokee Central Schools (August 2017), Swain County Schools (August 2017), and the Mother Town Healing Project (June 2018). Each of those partnerships provided opportunities for the Job Corps students as well as area students and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The DOL is seeking comment on the proposal to close the nine CCCs via a federal register posting, and all comments must be submitted by the deadline of Monday, July 1. You can view that listing here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/30/2019-11262/job-corps-center-proposal-for-deactivation-comments-requested