Cass Job Training Center, Cass, Arkansas Photo: Arkansas Times

The Washington Post reported that 1,100 workers employed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers who train young people from disadvantaged rural areas in fire fighting and other similar trades will lose their jobs at the end of September when the Administration closes 9 offices and shifts the other 16 to the Department of Labor, eliminating more than a third of the positions — it is the largest single layoff (or “RIF”) of federal workers in nearly a decade Students enrolled in the program work for the government as volunteers in order to receive free job training, but there have been concerns about their safety and job placement success after completing the training.

Why This Matters:  This decision was apparently made at the Cabinet level and happened quickly — it was billed as a way to “modernize” the program and to save money by eliminating the low performing job training centers. The program was begun by Sargeant Shriver under President Johnson, but has its roots in the New Deal era, but lost all its funding for next fiscal year unless Congress saves it — many Members from both parties immediately objected to the move.  The centers being eliminated are predominantly in states won by President Trump: Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington state, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon.  We hope the Sunrise Movement, and many of the Democratic Presidential candidates will speak up in opposition.  This is definitely a step in the wrong direction for both conservation and at-risk youth in rural areas.

The Agriculture Secretary said he made the decision so that the Forest Service could focus on other priorities. Members of Congress worry that other centers that not currently slated for closure will also get the ax eventually.  The program will be consolidated with similar job training programs for disadvantaged youth from urban areas.

  • “As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation’s forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission,” Secretary Purdue wrote in a letter to the Labor Secretary.
  • Representative Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said in an email to The Post that the center in his district in Tennessee (which is not slated to close) “has given many young people the opportunity to turn around their life, and I hope this will continue for generations to come,” and he pledged to “remain as a strong advocate for this program” and advocate to keep the centers open.

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