Washington’s Newhouse, Cantwell take steps to block Job Corps closures

By:  Janelle Retka
Source: Yakima Herald

Two lawmakers from Washington took steps Wednesday to protect 25 Job Corps programs, including one in the Yakima Valley.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Sunnyside Republican, was among a bipartisan group of 51 lawmakers Wednesday who sent a letter to the U.S. agriculture and labor departments, urging them to rethink their plans to shutter some Job Corps programs and privatize others.

Hours later, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators — including Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington — proposed legislation that would prevent the removal of funds from the 25 programs.

Their efforts were in response to an announcement late last month from the Labor Department that nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers would be closed and 16 others would be transferred to contractors in a federal cost-saving effort.

The 25 centers have been operated for over half a century by the U.S. Forest Service, training at-risk youth in natural resource conservation and natural disaster assistance.

The Fort Simcoe Job Corps center west of White Swan is among the nine slated to be shuttered, while Curlew Job Corps in Ferry County and Columbia Basin Job Corps in Moses Lake would be privatized.

Together, 658 students from the local centers contributed nearly 120,000 hours of support during Washington’s 2018 wildfire season, according to Cantwell’s office.

The letter organized in part by Newhouse emphasized that six of the top 15 Job Corps programs — out of a total of 123 nationwide — were CCCs and that the “massive revision of the program (was) undertaken without congressional consultation, notification or approval.”

The lawmakers also stressed that the 25 centers are the only Job Cops programs that assist in natural disaster response, with participants logging 450,000 hours of service in 2017 to support wildfire response and 5,000 hours responding to Hurricane Harvey.

“After a difficult year of natural disasters and with hurricane and wildfire season quickly approaching, now is precisely the wrong tie to be reducing capacity at CCCs,” they said in the letter. “We strongly urge you to maintain the CCC program.”

Additionally, the letter asked how the jobs and assistance provided by the CCC programs would be replaced.

Newhouse, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader organized the letter, garnering signatures from 18 senators and 33 representatives on both sides of the political aisle.

Merkley, DeFazio and Schrader are Oregon Democrats. Cantwell was among the signatories.

Hours after the letter’s release, Cantwell also teamed up with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to introduce legislation that would prevent the removal of funds from the 25 programs.

The Job Corps Protection Act would block federal funds from 2019 and 2020 being used to close any programs, as well as prohibit the federal government from making changes to facility operation agreements, blocking the possibility of privatization, according to a news release from Cantwell’s office. The Senate invested $1.7 billion in national Job Corps programs in 2018, it said.

Cantwell introduced the plan alongside senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

On Tuesday, Newhouse also proposed an amendment to the 2020 U.S. agriculture budget that would block federal funds from being used to shutter or transfer operations of the CCC programs. The amendment was approved by the U.S. Appropriations Committee and is headed for the House floor.

On Monday, President Trump canceled plans to close the Anaconda CCC in Montana after reviewing its ratings, according to local media.

A spokesperson for the U.S. departments of agriculture and labor said in an email Tuesday that the bodies had received messages of concern over the proposed changes as part of a 30-day public comment period. They said federal officials were reviewing the comments.