Congressman Hal Rogers is joining with other U.S. representatives in supporting a measure that would prevent the closure of several branches of the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCC), including the one in Pine Knot.
Rogers announced that the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the 2020 Agriculture House Appropriations Bill. The amendment was introduced by Washington Representative Dan Newhouse.
It would block the Department of Labor and the U.S. Forest Service from spending any money on a planned transfer of the CCC, which would in essence block the transfer of CCC to the Department of Labor's control.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it planned on turning over operation of the CCC to the Department of Labor. Those plans include shutting down nine centers across the country, including the one located in McCreary County. They would be shut down on September 30.
Another 16 branches could be contracted out to private or state operators.
Rogers said Wednesday that he supported Newhouse's amendment.
"The USDA and DOL have provided very little information on why they have designated Pine Knot and these other centers for closure, and even less information to the many Forest Service employees who will lose their jobs in just a few months' time," said Congressman Rogers. "I have enjoyed being a part of several Job Corps events over the years and seeing the impact of these programs on both the young participants and the communities they serve. The Civilian Conservation Centers are an important part of the Job Corps' mission tailored to the needs in our National Forest system."
In addition, Rogers said that he and several colleagues sent a joint letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Secretary of the Department of Labor Alexander Acosta. The letter expresses the opposition to the decision by more than 50 senators and representatives.
They contend that the civilian students that make up the CCCs represent one-fifth of all Job Corps sites and make up most of the list of the highest performing Job Corps Centers.
As an example, Pine Knot's urban forestry students are instrumental in tree maintenance in the Alpine and Keno areas of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
However, the Washington Post reported that USDA Secretary Perdue wrote Acosta in a letter dated last Friday that the program in general is "not essential to that core mission" of the Forest Service "to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation's forests."
Tuesday's letter from congressmen also addresses the jobs undertaken nationwide by CCC students with regards to natural disaster response, saying that CCCs are the only Job Corps Centers that can participate in disaster response.
Their duties include participating in fire assessments, providing manpower during fire seasons and treating prescribed fire and forest restoration work.
CCC students also provided 5,000 hours of response support after Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in 2017.
"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. We strongly urge you to maintain the CCC program," the letter states.
According to a news release from the Department of Labor sent last week, the plan to transfer control and close certain centers "creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers by modernizing and reforming part of the Job Corps program."
However, it did not address the impact that closing the Pine Knot center will have on McCreary County's economy, the impact on those who would lose jobs, or the agencies and programs that would lose support from the center and its students.