McConnell: Federal centers that provide jobs, training in rural Kentucky to stay open

Trump Administration officials have backed away from a plan to close two Job Corps centers in rural Kentucky, according to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The administration said last month that it planned to close Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in McCreary and Menifee counties.

The centers provide job training and education for disadvantaged young people.

The move was part of a plan to close a total of nine centers across the country and switch more than a dozen others to being run by contractors, including a center near Mammoth Cave in Edmonson County.

Republicans and Democrats representing areas with centers pushed back against the move, saying the centers provide badly needed jobs in rural areas and other benefits, including fighting forest fires.

More than 50 members of Congress, including Republican U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers of Somerset and Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green, signed a letter protesting the plan to close Job Corps centers, and McConnell also urged Trump officials to scrap the plan.

“These distressed Kentucky counties, with unemployment rates above the national average, need more support, not less,” McConnell said in a letter.

In McCreary County, for example, the Job Corps CCC employs more than 60 people and provides an annual payroll of $4.2 million in a county where per capita income is less than half the national level, local officials said.

The U.S. Forest Service intended to lay off more than 1,100 employees around the country under the plan for changes at Job Corps CCCs, the Washington Post reported.

However, McConnell said in a news release that federal Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told him Wednesday that the administration had agreed to McConnell’s request to keep the three Job Corp centers in Kentucky open and under Forest Service control.

The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Department.

McConnell said he was grateful that the Trump Administration had decided to preserve the centers.

In a statement, the departments of Agriculture and Labor confirmed the decision not to change the operation of the Forest Service Job Corps centers.

However, the statement did not say there wouldn’t be changes eventually. It said the Forest Service would keep the centers “for the time being” while agencies do a review.

The Forest Service must prioritize its core mission “to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation’s forests,” according to the statement.

The need to focus on that mission was one reason the administration officials gave for the initial plan to close some Job Corps centers.