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05-21-2020 Letters and Commentary


A day to remember

It is strange. Time under quarantine both seems to stand still and race on like never before. Either way you look at it, it is hard to believe that we have reached Memorial Day weekend. The first national celebration of Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. In the ensuing 152 years, we as a state and nation have observed this time of remembrance through times of peace, war, economic strife, and, like this year, health crises. No matter the circumstance, our country has and always will take time to honor and remember the lives sacrificed in preservation of liberty and national defense. Though most of us have never served in the military, we often hear stories of the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that are formed in the service and especially during combat. They say that war distills the senses. Things that don’t matter wash away, and all that matters is the essential — the person to the left and the person to the right. These unshakeable relationships that are fostered and strengthened are unique in that they occur between people who, in the course of civilian life, may not have ever met or become friends. We see these friendships lived out when, for example, survivors of Pearl Harbor or D-Day, though weathered by time and frail from age and, perhaps, injury, travel great distances to visit the graves of their brothers in Honolulu and Normandy to honor and remember them. Most of us have not experienced such a bond, but we can try to understand what that is like. And while what we are currently experiencing under this pandemic is certainly not the same, it is a common shared experience that I pray bring us closer together as fellow Michiganders and countrymen and women. Due to the many stay-home orders throughout the country, communities’ Memorial Day services have had to shift to online observations.

The annual National Memorial Day Concert will air at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 24 on your local PBS affiliate. The National WWI Museum and Memorial will present a schedule of free online streams beginning Monday, May 25 at 10 a.m. CDT. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum will conduct its Memorial Day remembrance ceremony beginning Monday at 10 a.m. EDT. The National D-Day Memorial will conduct a virtual Memorial Day event starting Monday at 11 a.m. EDT. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial will hold an online Memorial Day commemoration beginning Monday at 1 p.m. EDT. In some ways the altered scheduling is a blessing, as it will open up numerous services from around the country to be observed free at home. Speaking of home, there are numerous ways we can celebrate Memorial Day in our own neighborhoods, such as flying the American flag, and decorating our homes in patriotic colors, with flowers, bunting and chalk art, for example. This will be a Memorial Day to remember, and however you choose to honor our fallen servicemen and women, I hope that it is an occasion that brings us together, even while we are apart.

Good news on the horizon

With all the negative news in our state amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about some good news on the horizon for all Michigan drivers. Last year, the Legislature worked with Governor Whitmer to deliver a historic bipartisan auto-insurance reform bill. Lowering car insurance rates was the number one issue I heard about from Berrien County residents at their doors, and I was proud to cast my vote and deliver on a promise I made in my first election. Starting in July, Michigan drivers will finally see relief after paying the highest-in-the-nation insurance rates for decades. The new law is already working and paying dividends. It was announced that the catastrophic claims association annual per vehicle fee is falling from $220 to $100- a 55% savings. It was also announced by the Department of Insurance and Financial Services that the first round of insurance rate filings approved for July are showing larger than expected PIP savings for Michigan drivers. Individuals who choose to continue their lifetime unlimited medical coverage are expected to save at least 16.5%. For individuals who choose a different level of coverage, the savings estimates are even higher. The Department of Insurance and Financial Services is projecting 36.3% savings at the $500,000 level, 41.9% at the $250,000 level, and 54.3% at the $50,000 level. Delivering auto-insurance relief to Berrien County residents was the number one priority I took to Lansing, and I’m proud to have delivered for the hard-working people of my community. As we get closer to July, I encourage everyone to be an informed consumer and speak with their insurance agent about the new law and how it will impact them and their families. For more information on the historic reform, residents can visit www.reducemiratesnow.com or www.michi- gan.gov/autoinsurance. If I can ever be of assistance to you, you can reach me via email at PaulineWendzel@house.mi.gov or by phone at 517-373-1403. You can also visit my website at www.RepWendzel.com.


Our families and communities need relief, and Congress must act together

As the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, our nation’s families and communities are facing extraordinary challenges that require an extraordinary response. We need to act quickly and effectively to support a robust recovery without getting tangled up in partisan politics. I’ve said from the beginning that with divided government we need a deal that can pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the President. Sadly, Speaker Pelosi’s $3 trillion package put together behind closed doors did not pass the test. That’s why I voted against it last week.

It’s time for us to put the wheels back on the wagon and get to work on a relief bill that delivers real solutions. States like Michigan have a severe revenue shortage due to this crisis, and it’s clear the state and our small communities need additional resources. At the same time, we must do this in a fiscally responsible way that does not bail out states like Illinois that have greatly mismanaged their past budgets. Workers and small businesses also need further relief, we need to support Michigan’s auto industry, and we need to help our families. I stand ready to work with anyone from either party to get a bill across the finish line that puts our workers and families first. 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).

Underage drinking prevention

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, alcohol sales across the United States have surged. In many areas, alcohol retailers have been designated as “essential business” and sales of alcohol have increased by 55 percent since stay at home orders went into effect. For a good number of us, this is the most stressful time we have ever experienced. Anxiety or depression is heightened for many people as they worry about COVID-19, and the social isolation and distancing from family, friends and support networks, not being able to work, economic uncertainty and being stuck in the house for too long. These factors may contribute to people self-medicating with alcohol or to fill their time by drinking out of boredom. In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, it is important to consider how to help your family make healthy decisions, especially your kids who may be tempted to try alcohol right now. Research has shown that people who use alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. Change is a stressful thing for anyone, and young people are no exception to the rule. Stress is often listed as a contributing factor to why young people start drinking, which is never a safe option. It’s important to help those under the age of 21 develop coping skills and gain tools to handle stress and change in healthy ways. Make sure that children and young people do not have access to alcohol and model appropriate alcohol consumption when you do drink around your kids. Discuss with children the problems associated with excessive drinking and COVID-19, such as the fact that it can exacerbate anxiety or depression, lead to a weakened immune system, interfere with healthy brain development and increase the chances of alcohol dependence later in life. For support in talking to young people about underage drinking, visit www.bchdmi.org to find helpful tips for starting the conversation about avoiding alcohol.

Root cause faith

When someone asks for an explanation of possible reasons for what we are facing with COVID-19, they are expressing their belief and hope that a reason actually exists. When they express that belief and hope, they are admitting that they have come to a conclusion that someone in charge could actually have a valid reason. We ask because we expect that an explanation could help us understand why we are here. Seeds of faith, or of lack of faith, are revealed by the questions we ask. If we ask “How could a loving God let all these people die from COVID-19?” it reveals other assumptions. Assumptions like, “We (humans) are not to blame for any of this”. And “God needs to explain to me what He’s doing; otherwise I won’t bless Him with my faith”. It also assumes that all those whose death certificates identify COVID-19 as the cause of death are actually valid. If not, then our supposed evidence against God should be thrown out. On the other hand, if we ask “What does God want me to learn going forward from this?” it reveals that we believe that we can actually have a meaningful future by learning God’s purpose for us. It also assumes that God is paying personal attention to each of us, and that He knows all about each of us, and that each of us are responsible to God for how we deal with this, and that we have not stopped having life-changing faith in Him just because there are some bumps in the road. Now all of those assumptions can bring us to a hopeful and profitable end – growth in our relationship with God and with one another. I think that’s a better idea, especially since it’s supported by Scripture. So let’s ask our questions. And then ask ourselves what our questions reveal about us. And be encouraged.

Social Security honors our military heroes

On Memorial Day, our nation honors military service members who have given their lives for our country. Families, friends, and communities pause to remember the many great sacrifices of our military and ensure their legacy lives on in the freedoms we all enjoy. We recognize these heroes who, in President Lincoln’s words, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” The benefits we provide can help the families of military service members. For example, widows, widowers, and their dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about those benefits at www.ssa.gov/survivors. We also offer support to our wounded warriors. Social Security benefits protect veterans when an injury prevents them from returning to active duty or performing other work. Wounded military service members can receive expedited processing of their Social Security disability claims. Are you a veteran with a 100% Permanent & Total compensation rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs? We will expedite your disability claim. Both the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Social Security Administration have disability programs. You may qualify for disability benefits through one program but not the other, or you may qualify for both. Depending on your situation, some of your family members, including your dependent children or spouse, may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Want more information? Visit www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors for answers to commonly asked questions or to find information about the application process. Thinking about retirement? Military service members can receive Social Security benefits in addition to their military retirement benefits. For details, read the Military Service page of our Retirement Planner, available at www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/veterans.html. Please share this information with the military families in your community. To the veterans who bravely served and died for our country, and to the military service members who serve today, we honor and thank you.

REMEMBER… our war dead this Memorial Day. No matter where you are or what you are doing this Memorial Day, take a few moments to remember the men and women of our armed forces that gave their lives to keep our country free. In normal times nearly every community would have hosted some sort of ceremony of respect and remembrance; that is not the case for the year of the pandemic. The year of social distancing and COVED-19 is on our minds and in our hearts. The fear of becoming a victim of the coronavirus has caught the world’s population in a grip unlike any this side of the great flood. We have new heroes to cheer and pray for; those medical professionals and staffers that are manning the new front lines, our hospitals and clinics. At the same times hundreds of researchers racing the grim reaper to find treatments and vaccines to halt the spread of the virus as soon as possible. Please keep in mind those new heroes as you pray for our sons and daughters that gave the full measure in defense of our wonderful country.

Memorial Day

Dear Editor,

Memorial Day, officially known as Decoration Day, originated following the Civil War. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 moved Memorial Day from its traditional observance on May 30 to a set day, the last Monday in May. It officially became a federal holiday in 1971. Originally it was to honor those who lost their lives while fighting the Civil War; however, it has since evolved to honor all American military personnel who died in all wars.

Cities and towns across our country host parades and ceremonies and those in the Tri-City area are no different. For as many years as I can remember, I have been assigned to cover the Watervliet Memorial Day Parade for our local hometown newspaper.

The emotions I experience are always the same. I never tire of seeing the parade round the corner from Main Street as it makes its way to the cemetery. It is always led by veterans, who were once soldiers, marching in a rhythm that is home to them, as common as the rhythm of a heartbeat. Their movements are perfect and in sync. I love to watch the people; our classmates, our neighbors, our relatives, our business owners, follow behind the small parade line up and also, proceed to the cemetery.

If you have ever attended the parade and ceremony following it, you might consider it familiar, but it’s a familiarity that still captivates. Local royalty leading the Pledge of Allegiance, a local talent singing the National Anthem, God Bless America, or America the Beautiful, and someone from here or close by providing a speech, are all part of the tradition. The speaker finds a brand new way to tell the story, a story that reminds us all of the sacrifice that the men and women who have served our country and who have died fighting for our country took on.

The names of all of those who are not here this Memorial Day are read aloud. Silence penetrates between each name, almost demanding the honor that they deserve. What follows is tear-jerking; the all familiar but never old, playing of Taps and the gun salute.

This, this is what Memorial Day is all about. I am thankful that I did not wait until I was an adult doing her job to learn that. It was my Grandma and Grandpa Hiler who taught me that, who took me with them to clean the headstones and plant the flowers, and make sure the flags were placed just right at the graves of our family members who had passed on. We would stand in silent reflection, often followed by a memory or a story that made me feel that I really knew these namesakes that were gone before I ever had a chance to meet them.

This past September, our family lost a husband, father, grandfather, brother and my uncle. He served his country in Vietnam, served for his family, served for the children he would have someday. While he came home and did not die until many, many years later, he left a bit of himself there.

For many households, too many households, the day is a paid holiday, the long weekend that starts their summer, a great day for boating, planned family get togethers, corn hole, or horseshoes, or baseball.

Now, here we are in 2020, and the Governor’s Executive Order mandates that there are no public gatherings. When she extended it through May 28, 2020, that was the first thing I thought of, no Memorial Day ceremonies. I never dreamed that I would ever see a day when there was no parade, there was no ceremony, there wasn’t an opportunity to say thank you and applaud those still living, that are trying so hard to carry on the memories of those who no longer are.

As for me, I would have rather had the choice to attend the events that have long been a part of my Memorial Day tradition and believe it could have been done while abiding by requirements that insist on social distancing and mask wearing and being careful. This is not, however, about politics or the Governor. This is about a tradition, a tradition not only in my family, but in families in our community, our state, our country. This is about honor. This is about not forgetting. This is about our little one stoplight town and the people in it.

Please take the time this Memorial Day to honor and remember those gone that chose to serve our country, some dying doing it. Please ensure that your children and their children know about it as my grandparents did for me and I will do for my grandchildren. Cook your brats on the grill, take the boat out, play some corn hole, but first, take a moment to honor those that are more than just an American flag by a headstone. It’s the least that we can do.

Sincerely,

Annette Christie, Watervliet

Jacquie Gnodtke Blackwell

Editor,

In the May 14 issue of The [Tri-City] Record, Jacquie Gnodtke Blackwell wrote a letter citing her reason for running for State Representative in the 79th District. Some of you may remember Jacquie’s father, Carl Gnodtke. He served honorably for many years as our State Representative.

Jacquie grew up as her dad’s right hand girl. I used to take my 4th graders to the State Capitol in our study of Michigan history. Jacquie would take us on an insider tour, great with my students and well versed on the capitol’s history and workings.

Her father, although Republican, worked with both Republicans and Democrats. If you read Jacquie’s letter, you will learn that she’s not interested in partisan politics but in getting things done. When you vote in the August 4th Republican primary please consider Jacquie.

She is currently working as a nurse’s assistant in the Spectrum Health Lakeland psychiatric department. She is articulate, well informed, politically astute, and knowledgeable in the problems that affect our state and would use her expertise to serve us well in Lansing.

Mary Adams, Coloma

Jon Hoadley is the right person to represent us in Congress

Editor,

State Representative Jon Hoadley (D – Kalamazoo) is the leading Democratic candidate to replace Fred Upton as our United States Congressman. Jon has been an outstanding state representative and he will be an outstanding member of the U.S. Congress.

Jon Hoadley is a strong advocate for health care reform. In the Michigan Legislature, he co-sponsored the Health Over Profits for Everyone (H.O.P.E.) bill, which aims to lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications and doctor visits while increasing accountability for pharmaceutical companies engaged in price gouging.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jon has been an outspoken advocate for a national strategy based on the guidance of scientific experts. He has criticized the lack of such a strategy from the Trump administration and has supported the positive public health initiatives of Governor Whitmer.

In addition to health care reform, Jon Hoadley has been a strong voice for workers. He introduced legislation to crack down on payroll fraud and to create a registry of companies outsourcing jobs overseas. He vigorously opposed the anti-democratic action of State Republican legislators who gutted the One Fair Wage and Michigan Time to Care laws, which were established by citizen-led ballot initiatives.

Jon Hoadley has always advocated for proper funding for Michigan’s schools. He is a champion for teachers and students.

Unlike Fred Upton, Jon is a consistent advocate for the environment.

Rep. Hoadley has strongly supported nonpartisan redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting, which became law in Michigan after being approved by a citizen-led ballot initiative.

Jon Hoadley remains committed to health care reform, raising wages for working people, implementing paid sick leave, increasing education funding, protecting the environment, reforming elections, and ending all forms of discrimination. He is a strong, principled, energetic leader – we need him as our representative in the United States Congress.

Dr. Larry Feldman, Lakeside

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