How the CARES Act will help us through the coronavirus crisis On Thursday night last week, I drove from Michigan to Washington D.C. to help get the coronavirus stimulus bill across the finish line. We passed it and the President signed it into law on Friday. For this week’s column, I wanted to share a little about what is in the CARES Act and how it will help provide relief to our workers, families, and businesses during the coronavirus crisis. First, it will provide $1,200 checks for individuals and $500 for children. In addition, it provides for $350 billion for small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll with benefits with loans that will be converted to grants once the money is spent on employees. The legislation also includes $100 billion for our hospitals, funding to boost unemployment payments by an additional $600 per week, $150 billion for states and local governments, $30 billion for education funding, $16 billion for the national stockpile for PPE, and $11 billion for Public Health and Social Services for the manufacture, production, and purchase of vaccines and therapeutics. As we move forward, I want to be sure you know about a daily update I write to inform folks about the last updates that I am hearing. You can sign up for my daily “Kitchen Table” email update at upton.house.gov. To learn more about important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or by visiting my website: upton.house.gov. You can also call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).
What happened? Going through the cabinet where I had stored photographic equipment was very enlightening, and very disappointing. Things were not exactly as I had left them. Did you know that a collapsible rubber lens shade, if left to itself in a closed cabinet for sixteen years, turns to mush? It loses its flexibility and where it has been collapsed it comes apart. Surprisingly, the focal plane shutter in the Minolta SRT 101 that I bought new when I was 16 years old still works. But who knows if its timing is still accurate? It would be fun to check it out, but I don’t do wet chemistry photography anymore. So things have changed. Some of the equipment, the beakers, the trays, the condenser lenses for the enlarger, have not deteriorated. But many other things have. The timers still work. But the wires are brittle. My darkroom has become old. For some, the idea of aging has to come home in other ways than just looking in the mirror. Changes that can be observed in the mirror sometimes happen too slowly to be noticed. The mirror doesn’t lie; it just doesn’t shout the truth. But then, if I were stored in a cabinet for sixteen years, I might also be expected to deteriorate some. We were meant to flourish in these bodies we’ve been given, but not forever. Forever will require a different, renewed existence, and a new, not a worn out, turned-to-mush body. And that is what is promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”). That’s encouraging. But meanwhile, back in front of the mirror, we can take courage knowing that the same God who has walked with us throughout our lives will not abandon us in old age. (See Isaiah 46:4 and Psalm 139)
COVID-19 Update It was a busy week working from home and around the community in Southwest Michigan as we continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19. Currently, there are just under 6,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan and 184 deaths. The Detroit area is seeing most of the cases with 1,559 cases in Oakland and Wayne counties alone. We now have three cases in Van Buren County and 11 cases in Kalamazoo. It is important for us all to follow the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order and continue to practice social distancing to keep the spread of the virus minimal. Our local pantries and restaurants continue to serve people in need during this crisis. I thank those who have volunteered and made donations for helping to maintain the welfare of our community. It is that kind of generosity that will help us get through this difficult time. If you are able to support our local businesses through their take-out services, I encourage you to do so. Over the past couple weeks, there have been several executive actions related to slowing the spread of COVID-19. To learn more about these executive orders, go online and search this link to check out the executive action page on the Michigan Coronavirus website: https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98178_98455—-,00.html.
Alcohol awareness Drinking too much alcohol increases peoples’ risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer. This April, during Alcohol Awareness Month, the Berrien County Health Department encourages all residents to prevent alcohol abuse in Berrien County by spreading awareness about the dangers of drinking too much. It is especially important for parents of teenagers to be aware of the dangers of teen alcohol use. This time highlights the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives. No other substance is more widely used and abused by America’s youth than alcohol, making alcoholism, and related problems, a major public health problem in the United States. Alcohol use by young people is extremely dangerous—both to themselves and to society, and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction. Adolescence is a time of heightened risk-taking and as alcohol and drugs enter the picture, parents are faced with a unique set of challenges. They can simply sit back and hope their kids will ‘get through it’, or they can take an active role in learning about alcohol and drugs and helping their kids do the same. Research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents to learn about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations. The Berrien County Health Department encourages parents to help their teens foster healthy and responsible attitudes about alcohol, talk openly and honestly about the risks of alcohol use, and show teens that their opinions and decisions matter. To learn more about spreading awareness about alcohol abuse, visit the Berrien County Health Department website at www.bchdmi.org.
Retirement planning 101 with Social Security Social Security benefits are part of the retirement plan of almost every American worker. If you’re among the people covered under Social Security, you need to know how much you might receive from us when you begin receiving benefits. These monthly payments may be a vital part of your retirement income. We base your benefit payment on how much you earned during your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If there were some years you didn’t work, or had low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily. Even if you have never worked under Social Security, you may be able to get spouse’s retirement benefits if you are at least 62 years of age and your spouse receives retirement or disability benefits. Our online retirement planners are a great place to start mapping out your retirement plan. You can access them at www.ssa.gov/planners/retire. We provide important information that you should know. Have you considered: When you should apply for retirement? What documents you need to provide? Which factors may affect your retirement benefits? What you should remember to do after you retire? You can use our Retirement Calculator at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to get an instant estimate of your future retirement benefits, and to see the effects of different retirement age scenarios. On our website, you’ll also find our Retirement Estimator. It gives estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record. Please keep in mind that these are just estimates. You can access the Retirement Estimator at www.ssa.gov/estimator. Once you know your estimated retirement benefits, you can start coordinating other parts of your retirement plan. Saving money is also important. It’s never too early to begin saving, and doing so can help you live more comfortably when you stop working. Benefits for family members may also be important to you. When you start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, members of your family may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. You can learn more at www.ssa.gov/benefits. Please share this information with family and friends to help them prepare for retirement. Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ZOOM… I was surprised Sunday evening with a Zoom birthday party from my family … really neat video conference with family from California, Missouri, Florida, Hartford and Watervliet. What a great way to beat social distancing!
WEEK THREE… Anne and I are in the third week of voluntary social distancing. Anne has yet to leave the house and yard. Giving her health issues it is the best way for her to avoid getting the coronavirus, COVID-19. As a diabetic I have a health risk as well, but am managing a few hours a week on the paper, getting groceries and running errands. We are blessed to have our kids Amy and Bill next door, ready and willing to pitch in wherever and whenever they are needed. Given the grim news daily of the thousands of sick and dying world-wide it should come as no surprise that the virus has reached populations in almost all the states. Now it is shown up in our own corner of southwest Michigan. None us will get out of this untouched. Keep clear of everyone as much is possible. Keep your family distant to spare them as well. Keep informed, watch the news on television, listen to it on your radio, read about it in your hometown newspaper to get the latest and most reliable information. I believe that many of the information outlets on the internet cannot be trusted. President Trump has coined a great term “Fake news”. Sadly, he misuses it to tar the professional journalists who are trained to report the news truthfully, objectively and honestly in print, on television and radio. Keep in touch with your family and friends the best you can. You can always talk to me personally on my cell phone… 876-1327.
Resources, help available during coronavirus emergency
The governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order has been in place for a week. Many of us, including our students, have been home for longer. While shelter-in-place orders are helping slow the spread of the virus, this time away from work and school is also proving to be challenging.
Nothing can replace a student’s instructional time with a teacher, and despite great efforts from our school districts, educators and parents to provide educational enrichment at home — it is not the same. This has put a strain on parents to get creative in finding ways to keep their children engaged.
Fortunately, the internet is a wonderful resource and, because most internet service providers are waiving data caps during this time, there is freedom to surf educational resources without concern for racking up the bill.
If you have been looking for high-quality educational content, here are some good places to start:
The Henry Ford Museum offers an extensive digital collection that can keep you entertained. Visit https://www.thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-collections.
The National Museum of American History has resources to keep kids busy while at home. Visit https://americanhistory.si.edu/kids/kids-things-do-home.
The San Diego Zoo is offering free virtual visits with live cams to several of its animals and habitats. Check it out at https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/were-here-together.
The National Park Service also has loads of great free educational content available at nps.gov.
Google Earth’s Voyager is a showcase of interactive guided virtual tours, quizzes, and information to help educate. Learn more at https://www.google.com/earth/education/explore-earth/.
The Michigan eLibrary is offering a Learning in Place website, with links to free educational resources. You can learn more about its offerings at mel.org/covid19.
Our local libraries, while physically closed, still offer great content that is available for free electronically. By using apps like Overdrive, Libby, Hoopla, Bookflix and Kanopy, library card holders have free access to thousands of books, audiobooks, magazines, and movies and TV shows. You can find your local library’s website here: https://mi.countingopinions.com/directory/index.php?l=14790.
Lastly, I would like to say a word about our mental health. The disruption that this virus has caused, with the uncertainty and fear that can accompany it, is affecting many in ways they perhaps didn’t know or think possible. It is important that we check in on our loved ones during this time and offer help and support when possible. If you are having a hard time, you are not alone. If you want to talk to someone, there is help.
Michigan 211 is available all day every day to connect with help of all kinds. Go to mi211.org or call 2-1-1.
The Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7/365 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters, like COVID-19. Call 800-985-5990 or visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources. Call 800-273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7/365 to talk confidentially with anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship. Call 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.
Religious leaders are also of great benefit during times of need. If you attend a local parish, church or other place of worship, consider reaching out to them as well.
Serving Southwest Michigan in the state Senate is an honor, and while my Lansing office is physically closed during the emergency, my staff and I continue to serve you and we’re available to provide help where we can. Please call 517-373-6960. People may also email my office at SenKLaSata@senate.michigan.gov.
Prayer for a Pandemic May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors remember those who are most vulnerable. May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we who can care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options at all. May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no place to go. And may we who are losing our money in the market remember those who have no money at all. May we who must settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our brothers and sisters. Amen.
[Editor’s note: This was shared with the Tri-City Record from Beth Kraiger, Office Manager of Coloma United Methodist Church who forwarded it from someone else, author unknown.]
St. Paul’s using Facebook to remain close while apart
St. Paul’s UCC [United Church of Christ] might be 170 years old but we are using technology to stay connected as church community while Staying Home/Staying Safe. Daily I post a devotional on our Facebook page and each week we hold service online also through a link on our Facebook page that can be found at https://www.facebook.com/stpaulsuccwatervliet/.
Pastor Dani Veenstra
Southwest Michigan Cares Fund to support local COVID-19 response; over $250,000 pledged
(Press Release) As the community works through the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, local funders and businesses have come together to create the Southwest Michigan Cares Fund. This fund will aid non-profit partners that are working to support the emergent basic human needs of our residents during this time and the resulting ongoing financial impact on our nonprofit organizations.
Berrien Community Foundation, Hanson Family Foundation, Lakeland Health Spectrum, United Way of Southwest Michigan, and Whirlpool Corporation has each pledged $50,000 to address community needs associated with the outbreak. Other major funders at this time include the AEP Foundation, the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, Meijer, and individual donors.
“We do not know the full scope of how COVID-19 will impact families in our community,” said United Way of Southwest Michigan President Anna Murphy. “The generosity of these donors and the willingness of community funders to work together is crucial to the overall health and well-being of our area.”
The funders continue to meet remotely with nonprofit organizations to assess this rapidly changing situation and quickly make funding available to address emergent needs. The initial focus area of the Southwest Michigan Cares Fund is immediate response for non-profits providing emergent basic human needs. The fund will then consider grants addressing the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It is our top priority to take care of the members of our community and to help find the best way for resources to meet needs,” said Berrien Community Foundation President Lisa Cripps-Downey. “During this unprecedented time in our history, it is crucial for us to work together to ensure that families are supported and organizations remain solvent and able to continue to serve.”
Berrien Community Foundation and United Way of Southwest Michigan are teaming together to provide information and resources through the website www.southwestmichigancares.org.
Help for families
For individuals needing assistance with basic needs during this time, call 211 for referrals or visit www.help4her.org or https://www.uwsm.org/2-1-1. Information is also available on the Southwest Michigan Cares website at www.southwestmichigancares.org, the Berrien Community Foundation website at www.berriencommunity.org or the United Way of Southwest Michigan website at www.uwsm.org.
Nonprofits seeking funding
For nonprofits to apply for funding, visit southwestmichigancares.org. Questions about the application or the funding process can be directed to Amanda Drew at Amanda.email@example.com or Susan Matheny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can anyone help?
So many people are seeking ways to help beyond staying at home and washing their hands. Many want to find a way to volunteer or give back. Berrien Community Foundation and United Way of Southwest Michigan are working together to try and meet needs in the community and will communicate through their websites and social media with opportunities for individuals to give back along with the www.southwestmichigancares.org.
For individuals who would like to donate to the Southwest Michigan Cares Fund, visit www.southwestmichigancares.org. Donations can be directed to Berrien County, Cass County, Van Buren County or all of Southwest Michigan.
In addition to online donations, donors can also text to give by texting SWMICARES to 41444; or send checks to: Berrien Community Foundation Southwest Michigan Cares Fund, 2900 S. State Street Ste 2E, St. Joseph, MI 49085.
I&M warns against scams
Scams are not unique to I&M, nor have they gone away with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scams have been reported across the U.S. targeting various utility customers and companies, and some scam calls have recently been reported to I&M.
The scams vary, but often work like this: Customers receive calls from scammers falsely identifying themselves as I&M employees; the caller claims the customer is late paying their bill, and their power will be disconnected if the customer does not pay immediately; many scammers “spoof” the telephone number to appear as a different number. In some cases, it may appear to be an authentic I&M phone number; customers are usually instructed to call a different number to arrange payment; the scammers may seek account information or personal credit card and banking information from customers. Some direct customers to buy a debit card and provide the debit card number.
During the pandemic, I&M has suspended disconnects for non-payment. We remind customers that they are still responsible for their bills and it is important that they continue paying for their usage.
For assistance on paying their bill, Indiana customers can contact us at 800-311-4634; Michigan customers should call 800-311-6424. We also encourage customers to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/indianamichiganpower) and Twitter (@IN_MI_Power) and can speak directly with customer service specialists on those platforms.
Regardless of the situation, I&M employees NEVER call customers demanding immediate payment. Nor does I&M disconnect service without prior written warning. Anyone receiving such calls should hang up and call I&M’s Customer Operations Center at 800-3114634 to report the scam.