By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Almost a month after federal officials announced that nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs) were slated to close, that decision has been reversed. The nine CCCs, including the Oconaluftee CCC site, will remain open for now per a joint statement released on Wednesday, June 19 by the Departments of Agriculture and Labor.
“Following robust engagement with stakeholders and members of Congress regarding the future of the USFS (U.S. Forest Service) Job Corps Centers, USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has notified DOL (Department of Labor) that the USFS will evaluate the feedback while reviewing its role in Job Corps management and operation,” the statement said. “For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centers to DOL to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) led the way nationally in the fight to save the nine CCCs and, along with eight other senators, introduced the Job Corps Protection Act (S. 1736) on June 5. In a statement on June 19, Sen. Tester reacted to the reversal, “Suddenly, without any real reason or justification, the President pulled the plug on one of the most successful initiatives in rural America and my office was flooded with stories and objections from Montanans. That’s why I fought so hard to reverse this decision and today I’m extremely proud to have helped make their voices heard. But, too often this Administration acts without regard for the real-world consequences of their decisions – consequences overwhelmingly suffered by folks in rural America.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), one of the senators who introduced S. 1736, said on Wednesday, “I’m glad that President Trump, Secretary Perdue, and Secretary Acosta listened and are keeping these critical centers open and under the Department of Agriculture. Our job corps centers are critical.”
Kentucky had two CCCs slated to close including the Frenchburg CCC and the Pine Knot CCC. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement on Wednesday he was very pleased with the Administration’s reversal. “I’m grateful that President Trump and his administration have answered our calls to preserve the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in Kentucky. These centers provide critical educational and job-training services to at-risk youth in some of the Commonwealth’s most distressed communities…”
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 described the plan to transfer the Forest Service Job Corps CCCs to the DOL.
In addition to the Oconaluftee CCC, the other eight CCCs slated to close originally were: Anaconda CCC in Anaconda, Mont.; Blackwell CCC in Laona, Wisc.; Cass CCC in Ozark, Ark.; Flatwoods CCC in Coeburn, Va.; Fort Simcoe in White Swan, Wash.; Frenchburg CCC in Frenchburg, Ky.; Pine Knot CCC in Pine Knot, Ky.; and Timber Lake CCC in Estacada, Ore.
In recent years, the Oconaluftee CCC has forged 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.