CCC pandemic relief programs prove power of wider rollout to create jobs, boost economic recovery
Eyes are turning back to the future toward a proven jobs and workforce training program that could get Alaskans back to work and on the road to economic recovery. President Joe Biden’s recently announced infrastructure blueprint includes important provisions for climate resilience and infrastructure, including a $10 billion investment that could create a new nationwide Climate Conservation Corps.
“Alaskans across the state are out of work and struggling to pay their bills so we are pleased to see that an important component of President Biden’s new infrastructure plan includes policies like restoring and protecting nature-based infrastructure and, through the Climate Conservation Corps, creating jobs which are key to ensuring thriving lands, waters, people, communities and a robust outdoor recreation economy in Alaska,” said Lee Hart, executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance, an organization dedicated to strengthening Alaska’s $2.2 Billion outdoor recreation economic sector.
Last year, Alaska led the nation in using pandemic relief funds to create local conservation crews like the Civilian Conservation Corps that put Americans to work during the Great Depression. Last summer’s CCC-style crews were funded when elected leaders in three Alaska cities carved out a portion of CARES Act pandemic relief federal monies to get their residents back to work. At the end of it, the three programs employed a total of 82 Alaskans with wages ranging from $17 - $35 per hour, both stats slightly better than comparable national averages.
In Juneau, non-profit Trail Mix Inc. was a key part of Juneau’s $1 million COVID Conservation Corps program. “I’m proud of how we supported people in Juneau during the height of the pandemic, but this isn’t ‘mission accomplished.’ Alaskan communities all over the state could benefit from a workforce development program that invests in people, the land, and the economy,“ said Ryan O’Shaughnessy, Executive Director of Trail Mix. “That’s why Governor Dunleavy should direct new federal funding to allow similar programs to be run across the state.”
The following is a snapshot of results from CARES Act supported CCC-style programs in Alaska last year.
Juneau, $1M COVID Conservation Corps split between Eaglecrest Ski Area, Juneau Parks and Recreation Department and Trail Mix, a local non-profit that improves trail access around the community.
Parks and Rec crews tallied 40,000 hours on projects ranging from building a new public use cabin to a bike skills park. Parks and Rec director George Schaarf touted the fact 20 percent of crew time was spent on workforce training. Crew member Elias Antaya said: “The CCC has prepared me to pursue my goal of working as a wilderness ranger or trail crew member for the National Parks and/or Forest Service. I learned to confidently make decisions under pressure, to make tough calls when necessary and take responsibility for myself and my crew.”
Trail Mix recently published a thorough report of its CCC accomplishments, using its case study to urge lawmakers to use a portion of the American Rescue Plan funds to create a statewide conservation crew. “Money had the direct effect of employing people while also ending up with a very gratifying product,” said Bruce Bothelo, Juneau Economic Stabilization Task Force. It was also the only program that elicited letters and emails of praise from the public. “This was the most popular program the Task Force came up with,” Bothelo said.
Sitka, $300,000 Community Conservation Corps, a transitional employment program aimed at stimulating the local economy and building local workforce by giving jobs to unemployed, underemployed, and furloughed workers. Despite treacherous terrain and record amounts of rainfall, the Corps accomplished an extensive and diverse range of projects in less than four months. With over half a dozen substantial public works projects completed, the SCS directed the crew toward helping the City and Borough of Sitka with deferred public works maintenance efforts. Goodwill transcended the hard work on one project that restored an historic cemetery then partnered with the Alaska Native Brotherhood to deliver firewood from felled hazard trees to community elders. Read more.
Anchorage, $4.5M Public Lands Jobs Program; spruce tree beetle kill mitigation and trail projects in Anchorage, Girdwood and Eagle River, and to help with the installation of an Indigenous Wayfinding project.
Anchorage Assemblymember Chris Constant says it’s really about one thing: jobs. “What’s actually going on here is we’re investing in people who want to earn a living, training them, providing them with linkage to future job opportunities where they have fundamentally basic training to get into the workforce,” he said. Constant said the public lands funding was perhaps the project he was most proud of in allocating CARES funding, adding that while the benefits are primarily to the workers, the improvement to public lands will have a lasting impact.