09-19-2019 Letters and Commentary

Your earnings record is both your financial history and your financial future

Social Security is an earned benefit. Your earnings history is a record of your progress toward your benefits. Social Security keeps track of your earnings so we can pay you the benefits you’ve earned over your lifetime. This is why reviewing your Social Security earnings record is so important. If an employer didn’t properly report just one year of your work earnings to us, your future benefit payments from Social Security could be less than they should be. Over the course of a lifetime, that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement or other benefits to which you are entitled. Sooner is definitely better when it comes to identifying and reporting problems with your earnings record. As time passes, you may no longer have easy access to past tax documents, and some employers may no longer exist or be able to provide past payroll information. While it’s the responsibility of your employers, both past and present, to provide accurate earnings information to Social Security so you get credit for the contributions you’ve made through payroll taxes, you should still inform us of any errors or omissions you find. You’re the only person who can look at your lifetime earnings record and verify that it’s complete and correct. The easiest and most efficient way to validate your earnings record is to visit www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to set up or sign in to your own “my Social Security” account. You should carefully review each year of listed earnings and use your own records, such as W-2s and tax returns, to confirm them. Keep in mind that earnings from this year and last year may not be listed yet. Notify us right away if you spot errors by calling 1-800-772-1213. You can find more detailed instructions on how to correct your Social Security earnings record at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10081.pdf. Remember, you can access important information like this any time at www.socialsecurity.gov and do much of your business with us online. 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.

134,300 IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOMED AS NEW CITIZENS… I marvel at the problem we Americans have with handling the “immigration crisis.” My own take is we don’t have a problem with immigrants; after all, all of us have ancestors that were immigrants. Thank goodness they chose to come to America. Mostly uninvited, unwanted, poor, they came, anyway. Once here, they went to work, raised a family, helped pay the boat fare for more family, sent the kids to school, paid taxes, built a home, started a business. Sound familiar? That was my family’s story as it was yours. And while we are focused on the “immigration problem”, there is also an immigration solution… Tuesday of this week the Honorable Mark A. Goldsmith, District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan administered America’s soon-to-be citizens during a special naturalization ceremony at Wayne State University. This ceremony is one of over 316 ceremonies that welcomed more than 34,300 new citizens at Constitution Day and Citizenship Day ceremonies across the nation between Sept. 13 and 23. The 25 citizenship candidates originate from the following 10 countries: Bangladesh, Cameroon, Canada, India, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mexico, Philippines and Romania. One of my favorite pictures of my dad was taken just before leaving for the United States. He’s dressed as a sailor standing at the helm of the ship, straight faced, all business. I wish I had seen that photo when I could ask him, the 16-year-old sailor, “What was it like coming to America? Were you nervous? Scared?” There is another photo of six people: dad and his brother and sisters, plus two other girls, possible shipboard friends, Romances? Dad and his brother are strumming ukuleles. I know the picture postcards were made to send to the folks back home–what a treasure they are today! What I do know is that there was a mean-spirited ship steward who gave dad a near lethal dose of “medicine” to help his seasickness. The frothing potion was straight dry ice bubbling in water. Dad’s sister told me he was sick for most of the journey. They all had their first oranges on board ship. “They were wonderful,” Aunt Annie told me. Dad, Annie, Elsie and Alfred came to America alone. Grandpa Bayer was already here for a couple of years, working to set up a home for them and to pay for their passage (which they paid him back by getting them jobs as soon as they got off the ship). What’s the difference between those immigrants being arrested while fleeing danger and oppression in their homeland just south of the U.S. this week and the thousands swearing allegiance to the United States this week in ceremonies in celebration? By definition, those massed at our southern border have overwhelmed the system in place to welcome and process them to enter the United States. Until then, they’re all viewed as illegal aliens. Those thousands taking the oath of citizenship this week have earned it by going thru the legal process to attain it. I think the biggest issue of all is the sheer number of people wanting to enter the United States, but can’t. They can’t because there is a hoard of people looking for sanctuary and, for a variety of reasons, they cannot go back home. It is up to us, the USA, to alleviate the immigration crisis on our southern borders by treating all as welcome immigrants, not as illegal aliens.

Prayer as an artillery barrage

When God is about to do something, He calls His people to prayer. That life-changing lesson was what George Mueller, the famous orphanage-building, eighteenth century philanthropist, discovered as he accomplished many beneficial projects, in England, and internationally. Then there’s Philadelphia, 1858. A group of businessmen gathered regularly for prayer during lunch hour. Over time, a general revival of sincere religious interest grew out of those, and other prayer meetings in Philadelphia. When the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association planned a city-wide crusade, there was a coordinated barrage of prayer that was sent out by thousands of local people for weeks prior to the actual crusade date. God did great things through those crusades. How about us? We are seeing more emphasis on prayer recently in a variety of contexts. There is a general prayer revival happening in many churches and in many individuals. This has not been a coordinated effort, but it rather seems to be a spontaneously growing interest. Could it be that God is getting ready (and getting us ready) to do something? As interest in prayer grows, churches will also grow, but that cannot be our main motivation. Prayer gets us on track with God’s program, not our own. Prayer is not for forcing God’s blessings on our plans, but a means for discovering His plans. Too often the question asked is, “How’s that going to increase our attendance?” A better question would be, “How is that going to increase our relevance?” Churches’ profit and loss statements are measured in spiritual values, not in currency. Churches’ best assets are unseen, not seen. Is our overall purpose to better connect ourselves and others with God, and to learn His will and ways? What better way than by exploring the dynamics of open communication with God? Maybe it’s time we take better aim with prayer.

Rake a Difference” volunteers to help seniors with yard work

Before winter hits, raking your yard and cleaning out your gutters is a vital step to ensuring spring snow melt does not cause water damage to your home or lawn. Many area seniors try to accomplish this work on their own, putting them at risk for falls and serious injury. United Way of Southwest Michigan invites our community to give them a helping hand when prepping for winter. On November 7 & 8, hundreds of area volunteers, working as teams, will help seniors in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties rake and bag leaves and clean gutters as part of United Way’s 9th annual “Day of Action” for Seniors. The service is free of charge and serves seniors, aged 60 and older, who are unable to perform yard work and can’t afford to pay for services. Seniors are helped on a first-come, first-served basis, dependent on the number of volunteers available. “We are very excited that this is the first year we’ll also be serving Van Buren County for Rake a Difference,” said Anna Murphy, President of United Way of Southwest Michigan. “Winterizing your home is hard work and not everyone can do it on their own. This Day of Action for seniors is a great way to make a big impact in our community.” Volunteers should sign-up by October 11 at www.uwsm.org/rakeadifference. Seniors can sign up by calling 211 or 844-875-9211 by October 17. Volunteers are encouraged to snap photos during Rake a Difference on November 7 & 8. United Way of Southwest Michigan’s Facebook fans will vote on their favorite photo, and the winner will receive a delicious prize package and a cool Rake a Difference trophy. Photos must be posted to Facebook using the hashtag #RAKEADIFFERENCE to be eligible to win. Major sponsors are The Home Depot Foundation & Home Depot Benton Harbor Store #2768 and Indiana Michigan Power, an AEP Company/Cook Plant. Silver sponsors are Ausco Products, Competitive Edge, French Paper Company, and Gast Manufacturing. Bronze sponsors are Andrews University, Horizon Bank, Kruggel Lawton CPAs, Lindberg/MPH, Niles Precision Company, Silver Beach Pizza, United Federal Credit Union, and Vail Rubber Works.

Human Trafficking Survivor, Theresa Flores Comes to SW Michigan on Sept 26

If you think human trafficking doesn’t happen in Michigan, Theresa Flores – survivor, author and activist – wants to share her story of being a 15-yr-old sex slave while living in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit. No one, not even her parents, knew she was being trafficked. On Thursday, September 26, Flores will tell her story in three area towns: Niles, 12:00 – “Lunch ‘n Learn” at Michiana Christian Embassy Church, 1922 E. Main Street, Niles. Bring your brown bag lunch. Light snacks and water will be provided. Dowagiac, 2:30 – Southwestern Michigan College Lyons Theater, 58900 Cherry Grove Rd., Dowagiac St. Joseph, 6:30 – First Church of God, 2627 Niles Avenue, St. Joseph. All of these events are sponsored by the venues and Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. There are no fees, it is donation only. Theresa Flores is now a licensed social worker and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.). She is the author of two books, The Slave Across the Street and Slavery in the Land of the Free. Help fight human trafficking in Southwestern Michigan. Visit the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force site to become involved: swmihumantrafficking.org If you suspect you or a loved one is a victim of human trafficking call the 24-hr National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or Text: BeFree AG Nessel Welcomes Legislative Efforts to Extend Statute of Limitations for Misconduct by Public Officers After carefully reviewing the legislation proposed by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich and Representative John Cherry to extend the statute of limitations for criminal misconduct by public officers, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released the following statement today: “I welcome the legislative efforts of Representative John Cherry and Senator Jim Ananich to extend the statute of limitations for criminal misconduct by public officers. Their bills, HB 4834 and SB 0462, respectively, would raise the standard of ethical conduct in office and ensure that individuals who violate their sworn oath can be held accountable. “Currently, public officials can serve terms that exceed the six-year statute of limitations for misconduct, and the public has no legal avenue to criminally prosecute abuses of power that surface after those officials leave office. Public service is a sacred responsibility and those who wield their vast powers unlawfully should not find refuge or charity in the statute of limitations.”

Trump’s trade war has many negative effects

Editor, Donald Trump’s ego-driven trade war is having a decidedly negative impact on the U.S. economy. A large number of non-partisan economic experts have recently detailed some of these impacts: 1. Moody’s Analytics reported that the trade war has reduced U.S. job growth by 300,000 jobs and that the number of lost jobs is likely to rise to 450,000 by the end of the year. 2. The American Farm Bureau reported that “delinquency rates for commercial agricultural loans are at a six year high” and that farm bankruptcies have greatly increased. 3. A paper from the National Foundation for American Policy estimated that Trump’s tariffs will cost U.S. households $2,000 each by next year. 4. The American Action Forum estimated that the tariffs could cause national consumer prices to increase by over $120 billion annually. 5. The Consumer Sentiment Index from the University of Michigan fell in August by the highest amount since 2012. The official who oversees the Index stated: “The data indicate that the erosion of consumer confidence due to tariff policies is now well underway.” Jobs lost, farm loan delinquencies and bankruptcies increasing, prices rising, consumer confidence down. These are the “benefits” of Trump’s tariffs. Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that China would bear the cost of the tariffs he has imposed on imports from that country. As is so often the case with Trump, this claim is a lie. The costs of the tariffs are being borne by American businesses and American consumers. In addition to the economic damage that Donald Trump’s trade war has caused, it has also created a great deal of stress in our relations with our closest allies. Trump’s self-centered “America First” agenda has alienated our friends and encouraged our enemies, especially Russia. Donald Trump and his trade war are both bad for our country. We the people need to make sure he is a one-term president.

Larry Feldman Lakeside

Road policy reforms would ensure efficient, effective Tax dollar use

A set of 10 bills introduced by Senate Republicans on Thursday aim to improve oversight and transparency of road construction projects to ensure efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars on the state’s roadways. Senate Bill 524, sponsored by Sen. Kim LaSata, would require the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and local road agencies to post a sign at the beginning of a road construction worksite that displays the name of the contractor doing the work, a completion date (expected and actual), and the expected lifespan of the new road surface. For larger projects, additional signs would be placed at 5-mile increments. “Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been dedicated for road construction and maintenance projects in recent years, and more should be done to ensure that what is being spent is used efficiently and effectively,” said LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township. “This legislation will help make sure that is happening and will help keep Michiganders informed about how their tax dollars are being used, by whom, and how long the work that’s being done will last,” she stated. The proposed laws would also: *Improve our current road warranty program to provide better value; * Maximize the use of federal transportation funding that the state receives; *Require MDOT to study the feasibility of tolls on Michigan bridges or roadways; *Establish a local road agency advocate to assist with developing plans to comply with federal and state requirements and permitting; *Improve collaboration between the state and local road agencies by extending local asset management horizons and ensuring MDOT continues to supply long-range plans; *Require MDOT to develop a road construction inflation index to measure changes in cost within the highway construction industry annually; *Take steps to stop abuse of farming and logging vehicle registrations; and *Require local units of government, when adding new roads to their system or planning new infrastructure, to include how maintenance will be paid for. “It is important to note that these are road policy reforms and not a specific road funding plan,” LaSata said. “These bills are all about making the best of the road funding we already have and improving policies to better ensure we are making smart investments and our road infrastructure needs are being met.”

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