04-25-2019 Letters and Commentary

Night lights Recently a www.spaceweather.com article announced the arrival again of the “Lyrid” meteor shower. The meteors are actually debris from comet “Thatcher”, and they don’t really “arrive” on earth, the earth passes through Thatcher’s debris cloud. The moon’s brightness often obscures all but the brightest meteors, but it’s still fun to watch for them. Just to be out there at night or early morning and seeing all the stars, and being able to pick out the Milky Way swath across the sky, is fascinating. It is a privilege and a unique opportunity when we observe a meteor or witness an aurora. A privilege because these are not common events; and a unique opportunity to praise God for the beauty of His creation. We may be the only human to observe this particular event, so we would be the only human who can praise God for it. That is definitely special. Individual meteors are random in that they do not follow a pattern of frequency or intensity. Putting two events in the Bible together then, we can see an example of God’s infinite wisdom and sovereignty. The two events are day four of creation, when God made the stars and many other heavenly bodies, and other event is the “star” the Wise Men from the East saw announcing Christ’s birth. According to Genesis 1:14, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years’.” (NASB) Note it says for “signs”. That means that way back at creation God arranged for there to be a unique “star” at just exactly the right time beginning its journey light years away from earth, to arrive at earth over the Persian sky when these guys happened to be looking up! That is awesome! But then, God is awesome!

Social Security helps people like you Part of what makes our nation unique is our diversity. Social Security touches the lives of nearly all Americans; so, we’re accustomed to serving a diverse population. Online, our People Like Me pages help inform the many different people we help. From people with disabilities to students and military veterans — Social Security is here for you. These pages are easy to share with friends and family or on social media. Here are just a few that might speak to you or someone you love. Do you know someone who is just starting their career? Now is the best time for them to start preparing for retirement. The sooner we begin to save, the more we’ll have when we reach retirement age. Share this page with a young worker you know. www.socialsecurity.gov/people/earlycareer. We proudly serve wounded warriors and veterans. They faced sacrifices to preserve the freedoms Americans treasure. Many of them do not know they might be entitled to benefits. Share our resources with them to make sure they are getting the benefits they deserve. www.socialsecurity.gov/ people/veterans. Social Security plays an important role in providing economic security for women. Nearly 55 percent of the people receiving Social Security benefits are women. Women face greater economic challenges in retirement. First, women tend to live longer than men. A woman who is 65 years old today can expect to live, on average, until about 87, while a 65-year-old man can expect to live, on average, until about 84. Second, women often have lower lifetime earnings than men, which usually mean lower benefits. And, third, women may reach retirement with smaller pensions and other assets than men. Share this page with someone who needs this information and may need help planning for their golden years. www.socialsecurity.gov/people/women. These are just a few People Like Me pages that are tailored to a specific group’s needs. If you didn’t see your own, check out our home page at www.socialsecurity.gov/people. Vonda VanTil 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 vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

BEAUTIFUL EASTER … for all of us fortunate enough to be in southwest Michigan the past weekend we couldn’t have nicer weather. It certainly matched the peace and love of the Easter Story. Sadly, the message from Sri Lanka did not add to the beauty. Prayers and support are needed for the victims who were killed or injured in a concerted attack on Christian churches there.

NEAR MISS… I was coming out of the Watervliet Pharmacy as a couple of 10-year-olds came whizzing down the sidewalk. I barely gave them a glance, thinking if they ever saw the “no bikes allowed” painted on the sidewalks at every intersection. I took a step towards my next stop, Don Young Insurance, when I heard “excuse me” from a lad on a bike squeezing by me and the building. I nearly spun around and shouted “hey”, then spied the speedster, still pedaling furiously to catch his buddies. Bike safety is a conundrum in most communities. In the really big towns the bikes cause as much to the congestion as taxis. In the small towns the bikes are a minor nuisance but can be dangerous. Usually I look both ways when leaving a building to avoid a collision with a little biker. I’ve been a near miss when the biker is on the road, pedaling with the traffic and I’m legally parked. The near miss was opening the door and the bike slam into it. Now there’s the new distracted driver, not in a car, but on a bike, texting or some such while pedaling “no handed”. On a couple occasions I’ve seen older kids cruising down the hill near Hays Park, no handed – with eyes glued to the phone screen. Pedestrian/ bike lanes are a great idea, but there needs to be more signage and education. While the safety manual tells you to ride/ walk with the flow of traffic, in reality most travel against the traffic. Roads like Red Arrow have little or no lanes for bikers and walkers. Worse it seems is the higher the speed limit the less space there is for others to share the road. With nice weather upon us, and everybody wanting to pursue their own recreation on the roads, the congestion and confusion is just another accident waiting to happen.

National Day of Prayer Dear Editor, In 1952 when President Truman signed the congressional resolution establishing an annual day of prayer in our nation, he encouraged citizens to “beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue the course steadfastly”. Although many years have passed, we still need to acknowledge afresh the sovereignty of Almighty God and our need to ask for his guidance, corporately and individually. The National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 2. What a privilege it is to call the people of our great land to prayer! Please find a location in your town and join in prayer for the healing of our Nation. Dawn Consolino, Coloma

Hartford Strawberry Festival seeking royalty and announcing attractions Dear Hartford Community, The Hartford Strawberry Festival is looking for Prince and Princess contestants as well as Strawberry Shortcake girl or boy contestants. The Strawberry Prince and Princess are children between the ages of four years old through six years old as of June 7. The Strawberry Shortcake boy or girl contestant must be between the ages of 18 months and three years old as of June 7. Contestants need to live in either Hartford Township or the City of Hartford. Photos for voting are taken at the Hartford Public Library. Contact Sarah Briley at (269)539-1345 for photo and any questions you may have. Contestants will ride in the Festival Kiddie Parade on Friday, June 7. Winners may participate in other community events between June 2019 and June 2020. The Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce is working toward making the Strawberry Festival a wonderful family event. This year we have brought back the train to the park. Also an added attraction is the Chamberlain Pony rides and a petting zoo on Saturday. We have added a Sidewalk Chalk Drawing contest, Hula Hoop and Cup Stacking contest and candy filled piñatas in Ely Park. Donations to this event are greatly appreciated. Stephanie Daniels, Vice-President Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce

Trump supporter Dear Editor, I have been a registered voter for a long many years. I voted for President Trump and I am so glad I did. Finally we have a president who is for America. The economy is doing very well. We finally have a man in office that has enough sense to put a stop to illegal people entering this great country. He is a family man and a very smart business man who is trying to lead our country in the right direction. My hat goes off to President Trump and his associates. I support the Republican Party, Mr. Trump and Vice President Pence. Ray Clauser, Benton Harbor

Social Security Combined Trust Funds gain one year The Social Security Board of Trustees has released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80 percent of benefits payable at that time. The OASI Trust Fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 77 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91 percent of benefits still payable. In the 2019 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced: The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds increased by $3 billion in 2018 to a total of $2.895 trillion; the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2020 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2020. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010; the year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2035 – gaining one year from last year’s projection. At that time, there would be sufficient income coming in to pay 80 percent of scheduled benefits. “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “The large change in the reserve depletion date for the DI Fund is mainly due to continuing favorable trends in the disability program. Disability applications have been declining since 2010, and the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries receiving payments has been falling since 2014.” Other highlights of the Trustees Report include: Total income, including interest, to the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to just over $1 trillion in 2018. ($885 billion from net payroll tax contributions, $35 billion from taxation of benefits, and $83 billion in interest); total expenditures from the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to $1 trillion in 2018; Social Security paid benefits of nearly $989 billion in calendar year 2018. There were about 63 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year; the projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.78 percent of taxable payroll – lower than the 2.84 percent projected in last year’s report; during 2018, an estimated 176 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes; the cost of $6.7 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2018 was a very low 0.7 percent of total expenditures; the combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 2.9 percent in 2018. The Board of Trustees usually comprises six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant. View the 2019 Trustees Report at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2019/.

Diocese alerting public regarding suspected financial fraud related to immigration services The Diocese of Kalamazoo is alerting the public to possible fraudulent representation by a former employee accepting financial compensation for facilitating immigration services. Diocesan officials are working closely with local law enforcement authorities in the investigation as well as in identifying anyone who may have paid for immigration services that were not rendered to them. Anyone wishing to utilize the Immigration Assistance Program of the Diocese of Kalamazoo should do so by contacting the office directly at 269-385-1019 or coming during office hours which are listed below. Immigration services offered by the Diocese are only available at the main office, 219 W. Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo. Diocesan officials will never offer to meet potential clients at their home or any other public place. Please note that Immigration Assistance Program services previously offered by the Diocese at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Hartford have been suspended. Immigration Assistance Program Office Hours: Open Consultations Monday – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday – by appointment only during office hours.

Michigan launches industrial hemp ag pilot program for 2019 planting season Farmers, processors and institutions of higher learning who are interested in Michigan’s newest agricultural crop – industrial hemp – will now have an opportunity to test the waters under the state’s new Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program. April 18, 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) launched the State of Michigan’s Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program for the 2019 planting season to allow for the growth, cultivation and marketing of Michigan grown industrial hemp. “Michigan is uniquely positioned to grow, process and manufacture industrial hemp. We are one of the nation’s most agriculturally diverse states – growing 300 different commodities on a commercial basis – making it a natural fit,” said Whitmer. “This emerging crop not only cultivates new opportunity for our farming community, but it also creates an avenue for new businesses to crop up across the state.” The 2018 federal Farm Bill authorizes the commercial production and processing of industrial hemp in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture is in the process of implementing a national program with the intent to have it in place for the 2020 growing season. In the meantime, MDARD is utilizing authority in the 2014 Farm Bill for an Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program. “Michigan’s pilot program allows our farmers to explore the production and processing for hemp to determine whether or not this is a financially viable crop for them,” said Gary McDowell, MDARD Director. “It also helps pave the way for Michigan growers as we move toward a permanent licensing program next year to identify and expand value-added hemp processing and new market prospects.” The 2014 Farm Bill permits an institute of higher learning or MDARD to grow industrial hemp for research purposes as part of an agricultural pilot program. If MDARD approves a hemp ag pilot program application, a person participating in the Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program will be required to obtain a license and enter into a research agreement with MDARD. Persons who comply with the terms of a research agreement will be considered by MDARD to be conducting research on behalf of the department as permitted under the 2014 Farm Bill. MDARD is in the process of scheduling several events where interested participants can apply for and obtain a research agreement. Forms for a grower registration, a processor-handler license, and participation in MDARD’s 2019 Hemp Ag Pilot Program was made available online beginning April 18, 2019. The department began accepting applications beginning April 23, 2019. Grower registration costs $100 and a processor-handler license cost $1,350. More information on industrial hemp, details and requirements for licensure, and a schedule of the licensing events at the MSU Ag Pavilion in East Lansing is available online at www.Michigan.gov/IndustrialHemp.

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