The White House is scrapping a controversial plan that would have shuttered several training centers that prepare underprivileged kids for careers in wildland firefighting, forestry and other conservation jobs.
The Agriculture Department announced last month that it would be foisting the Forest Service’s Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers onto the Labor Department, closing nine out of 25 centers and laying off more than 1,000 federal employees. The plan brought criticism from both sides of the aisle since many of the facilities are in red states.
The agencies on Thursday said that after getting feedback from Congress and the public they no longer plan to transfer control of the training centers, effectively putting any closures on hold.
Spokespeople from the two agencies said in a joint statement that they will undertake ”a robust organizational review to determine the appropriate course of action keeping in mind the [Forest Service] mission, the students we serve, and the American taxpayers.”
The backtrack from the White House was first reported by Politico on Wednesday night.
The CCC program has been around since 1964 and each year trains nearly 4,000 young adults between ages 16 and 24, many of whom are poor. Federal employees teach them how to fight wildfires, do disaster recovery and handle other jobs on public lands. The trainees help the federal government in conservation efforts while receiving GED diplomas and vocational training certifications. They often go into conservation or building trade careers after their stints.
Republicans have long been skeptical of federally funded job training programs, but as HuffPost reported this month, some of the lawmakers most rankled by the White House’s plan happened to be Republicans. That’s because a lot of the conservation centers are in GOP-leaning areas in the South and West; the ones slated to close were in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oregon.
Republican lawmakers were having to answer to angry constituents who didn’t want to lose the program and its jobs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta urging them to reconsider the plan. There were two conservation centers and 100 jobs on the chopping block in McConnell’s state of Kentucky.
Fifty-one members of Congress sent a separate letter calling the move “troubling.”
“These centers not only help support these underserved youth and young adults with invaluable job training, but they also provide essential capacity for the U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its mission and provide economic opportunities in rural areas,” the group wrote.
The lawmakers said that in 2017 CCC students provided 450,000 hours of work fighting wildfires and doing disaster recovery in communities hit by Hurricane Harvey.