Kingsport Times-News: Flatwoods Job Corps to close; Jacobs Creek to stay open
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Flatwoods Job Corps to close; Jacobs Creek to stay open

Rick Wagner • May 30, 2019 at 9:17 AM

COEBURN — The Flatwoods Job Corps in Wise County is among nine sites nationwide the Trump administration plans to close by year’s end.

That’s according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor, which is assuming operations of the corps’ Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jacobs Creek Job Corps in Sullivan County near Bristol is among 16 nationwide that will continue to operate, a Labor official said.

HOW MANY JOBS AND STUDENTS AFFECTED?

The move would cut about 1,100 federal jobs by year’s end, according to national media accounts, but no one could be reached for comment about the job losses or numbers of youth served at Flatwoods or the other eight centers that will close. The Job Corps trains economically disadvantaged youth in wildland firefighting, plumbing, electrical and other jobs available in rural communities.

“I was disappointed to learn about plans to close the Flatwoods Job Corps center in Coeburn,” Virginia U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “In addition to the jobs it supports, the center provides a source of training and education for people in the community.” 

A May 28 letter addressed to the secretaries of Labor and Agriculture and signed by Griffith and Democratic Virginia U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine says: 

“We are especially concerned that DOL plans to close the Flatwoods facility in Coeburn, Va. Flatwoods employs dozens of individuals in the community and serves a large number of students each year. This facility provides young adults in the region with the educational, social, and vocational skills needed to find quality employment, while also aiding in the conservation of the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest. The Flatwoods center provides a nearly $6 million economic impact to the local community, an area that has faced significant economic hardship as coal production has declined in recent years. Closing this facility in the heart of Southwest Virginia is a concerning decision that will lead to fewer opportunities for our constituents who depend on this center for employment and skills training.”

A Washington Post article said although Jacobs Creek is not on the list for closure, its future is uncertain and the layoffs are believed to the the largest federal ones in about a decade.

“This organization has changed the lives of men and women across the country who otherwise might not have had a chance,” said Tennessee U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st,  in an email to the Washington Post as reported in a May 24 article.

“Jacobs Creek has given many young people the opportunity to turn around their life, and I hope this will continue for generations to come,” Roe said, vowing to “remain as a strong advocate for this program” and to press the Trump administration to keep the centers open.

WHY CHANGE NOW?

The USDA has operated the centers since 1964 through an agreement with the Department of Labor, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a May 24 letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the Forest Service must focus on the “nation’s forests and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission.” Perdue wrote that by Sept. 30 each CCC center should be transitioned out of the Job Corps program or have an established plan to do so.

In an email to CCC employees, Vicki Christiansen, chief of the USDA’s Forest Service, wrote that the purpose of the corps “aligns with the Department of Labor’s mission to provide at-risk youth with quality education and skills instruction leading to meaningful, in-demand jobs;” that the transfer is “good government” intended to “make the corps more efficient and flexible to local needs when operated by state or private sector entities;” and that the transfer will “promote greater consistency, accountability and responsiveness to meet student needs” and “better benefit the students in the long run.”

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