Federal leaders have reversed a decision to close nine Civilian Conservation Center Job Corps sites and transfer additional centers to contact operators.
Following a conversation with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, June 19, Sen. Jeff Merkley announced that the centers would remain open under operation by the U.S. Forest Service.
"Today's news is a huge victory for the people of Oregon and for rural communities across the country," Merkley said in a press release.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor accepted a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating the Forest Service would withdraw from operating Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers. Nine centers were proposed for deactivation, including Timber Lake Job Corps near Estacada, and others would have continued under new contract operators.
"CCCs play an invaluable role not only in providing job training for young adults who come from low-income and at-risk backgrounds, but are also critical to protecting our communities from wildfire," Merkley said, noting that Oregon Job Corp students have dedicated thousands of hours to fighting fires and ensuring that forest lands are resilient to fire. "At a time when the West has faced devastating, back-to-back fire seasons, dismantling the CCCs was a reckless and wrong-headed decision. Oregonians can breathe a huge sigh of relief that our beloved CCCs are safe and our students will remain on the job."
Merkley, along with Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), led a bipartisan, bicameral effort of 18 senators and 33 representatives to reverse the decision.
Previously, Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden joined colleagues in introducing legislation to prevent the removal of federal funds from the centers through the Job Corps protection act, which would have blocked the federal government from using funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any centers and prohibit changes being made to agreements that operate Job Corps facilities, which would prevent them from being transferred out of the U.S. Forest Service.
Additionally, an amendment that would prohibit federal funding being pulled from centers passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month.
Officials from Merkley's office cited the bipartisan efforts as an instrumental element of keeping Job Corps centers open.
"That many members of Congress were willing to step in and stop the decision (says that) when decisions are made without consultation and public hearings, we're not going to move forward with this," Sara Hottman, Merkley's state communications director, told the Estacada News.
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