The Trump administration announced on Friday that the U.S. Forest Service will no longer operate Job Corps Civilian Conservation centers, meaning that 1,100 federal employees will be laid off, including dozens of Virginians who work at the Flatwoods Job Corps Center in Coeburn.
Flatwoods is one of nine centers that will be shut down. Coeburn Mayor Jeff Kiser told the Coalfield Progress it would be “an economic blow to the community,” as Flatwoods creates nearly $6 million in economic impact in the local community and employed 65 staffers as of 2017, according to the Progress.
The Flatwoods center allows students to earn their high school diploma or GED while also learning specialized job skills such as carpentry, plumbing, or electrical. Students also regularly help local fire departments in fighting fires, provide free labor for community projects in the region, and assist the forest service with maintenance.
The rural Job Corps program trains young Americans for jobs in rural communities and enrolls more than 3,000 students per year, but the U.S. Department of Labor said the closures would allow the program to focus on serving “a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
For the people of Coeburn, that justification is unlikely to be enough, especially since Flatwoods was chosen as the “national director’s Center of the Year” in 2016 and also in 2013, according to the Progress.
The decision to close the centers was condemned by Democrats, but also by some Republicans, as many of the centers that are targeted for closing are in red states.
In Virginia, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia), who represents the area, in sending a joint letter to the Trump administration expressing their concern.
According to the Progress, the letter states that closing these facilities will “negatively impact the communities they serve, most of which are low-income urban and rural areas.”
On a national level, the elimination of the program is expected to cause the largest number of federal jobs cuts in a decade.