A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation to save Job Corps sites across the country from closing, including Flatwoods in Southwest Virginia.
On Thursday, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said the Job Corps Protection Act would block the Trump administration from using federal funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in the U.S.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was exiting its partnership with the Job Corps. As a result, the Labor Department reviewed each of the nation’s centers and decided to close nine facilities, including Flatwoods in Coeburn, Virginia.
The Labor Department has also decided to change operations at 16 sites, including Jacobs Creek near Bristol, Tennessee.
Following the announcement, local, state and federal leaders swiftly opposed the plan. The town council of Coeburn passed a resolution opposing the closure, calling it a disaster for the town.
Warner and Kaine’s legislation is also sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana; John Boozman, R-Arkansas; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Steve Daines, R-Montana; Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; Ron Wyden D-Oregon; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. The senators represent states that are home of Job Corps sites set to close.
The senators said the Civilian Conservation Centers provide valuable job training for young adults ages 16 to 24 in rural communities across the country, including in Southwest Virginia, while assisting in the conservation of the nation’s limited public natural resources.
The legislation also comes on the heels of a letter that Warner and Kaine, along with U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, sent to the department secretaries, urging them to reconsider the closure of these facilities.
“For decades, the Flatwoods Job Corps facility in Coeburn, Virginia, has helped equip young Virginians with the skills needed to succeed in today’s changing economy,” Warner said in a written statement on Thursday. “Closing the door on this vital program would not only make it harder to expand economic opportunities in Southwest Virginia, it will also make it harder for Virginia’s employers to find the kind of high-skilled talent that the jobs of tomorrow will require.”
Kaine said job training is at the core of preparing the next generation for good-paying jobs in Virginia and across the country. The senator said he’s worried about the decision to close nine centers, including Flatwoods, which he said has a “tremendous economic impact” in the region.
The senators previously said Flatwoods provides a $6 million economic boost to Southwest Virginia.
“There’s agreement on both sides of the aisle that President Trump shouldn’t take funding away from these critical job training programs, and Congress can prevent him from doing so by passing our bill,” Kaine said.
Warner and Kaine also joined a group of 18 senators and 33 representatives in pushing the Labor and Agriculture departments to reverse their decision.
Coeburn Mayor Jeff Kiser said Thursday the Senate bill is a “great start to needed action to stop the closure,” but he would like to see a similar House of Representatives bill. Kiser suggests the entire Virginia House Delegation of 13 representatives sponsor a bill calling for Flatwoods to remain open.
“The Flatwoods center is a vital part of the community and the closure would be a huge economic loss as well as jobs lost,” Kiser said.
It’s unknown how many employees would be affected by the Flatwoods closure.