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12-17-2020 Letters & Commentary

RITE OF NATIVITY… Last week, on Facebook, I read a comment from my daughter Amy Bayer Loshbough… “Growing up my grandparents and my parents always had a nativity set, really similar to this one I just purchased. As kids we always played with the nativity and I wanted to create that same memory with my grandsons.

“Yesterday while having Oreos & milk, I shared the Christmas story with William and Jax while letting them touch and look at the nativity. I had their full attention as long as they didn’t run out of Oreos. Ha Ha! “Later William told me those were my action figures, and this is how I found baby Jesus! [Amy included a photo]

“Mission accomplished!! Planting the seed is so important, my parents and grandparents did that for me!”

My childhood Christmas memories are so full and fun, from school to church to home (as my annual Christmas Kolumn will attest). Many are of the nativity, the story of the birth of Christ Jesus. The tableau of the story is with Jesus, Mary and Joseph the centerpieces. Shepherds, farm animals, angels fill the rest of the spots.

But that was not the rest of the story, three kings searching for a predicted astronomical event, a new star, found it in the skies overhead. They were drawn to Bethlehem and arrived a couple weeks later.

The nativity, that scene of the birth of Jesus stayed on the mantel over the fireplace, “waiting for the 3 kings to arrive,” mom would say to January 6, the Epiphany, their arrival. And the naming of Jesus.

I couldn’t have been the only kid in the house eying the plaster of Paris figurines mysteriously appearing in early December. They were the centerpiece, pushing back all the school pictures, awards and such. That was no LEGO simple process; the mantle was probably eight foot long, as were the bookcases flanking it. That’s 24 feet of a living, growing pictorial history!

So was the nativity… figurines got moved periodically. Everyone knew the cow, heavy with milk, was missing its rear left leg. I had nothing to do with that. I can’t remember it ever having four legs.

The cow would move from left to right, as would the shepherd boy and a sheep or two. Mary and Joseph were also fair game to relocate. But never very far from the crib of Baby Jesus which was “hands off”.

Here comes the link from the nativity I knew (& played with) to the one my daughter was recently introducing to her grandkids.

The nativity Anne and I shared with our kids was the centerpiece of our Christmas decorations and celebrations. The figurines have survived 50 years so far, but not without some wear and injury. Baby Jesus is missing both arms!

I doubt the disfigurement occurred at the same time, or at the same hands of Justin, Amy, or Gillian. Worse yet, Baby Jesus would sometimes disappear. Long enough for a search to be organized, but easier enough to show up in a dollhouse, tea party, or GI Joe ambulance.

Baby Jesus has never been moved out of his manger since the onset of Crazy Glue. Sometime in the 70s I glued him to his cradle.

As our grandkids arrived, most had a shot at the now bedraggled, well-traveled nativity but there was never the same interest of their parents. It did seem a rite of passage as the young ones introduced the nativity with “Grandpa glued Baby Jesus to his cradle”.

This year Amy helped us decorate, and she placed our nativity on a shelf only reached with a 10-foot ladder.

At her house I wonder how she’ll handle her grandsons taking Baby Jesus for a ride in their LEGO cars.

Restaurants suffering the consequences of governor’s poor judgment

Like many of you, my family has made it a priority to support small, locally owned businesses and restaurants throughout the pandemic, and we recently grabbed takeout from the Easy Street Inn in Coloma. On the drive home I couldn’t help but think how far the Easy Street Inn is right now from the proverbial easy street, as it and other dining establishments suffer under another one of the Whitmer administration’s onerous shutdowns. I believe our restaurants have been unfairly targeted by the state’s health department, and Director Robert Gordon and the recent shutdown extension during this critical time of year will further the devastation.

So far this year, indoor dining at restaurants has been banned for over 100 days, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in sales and the laying off of most of the state’s restaurant workforce, according to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA). The MRLA predicts that, because of the two most recent shutdowns, 6,000 more restaurants could close for good, and that’s on top of the 2,000 that have already permanently shuttered.

The glaring contradiction to the health department’s orders is the health department’s own data. Official statistics indicate that, of the COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred, only 4.3% can be attributed to restaurants. The governor and her health department have seemingly made these life-altering decisions on a hunch and without consideration of the consequences. State bureaucrats have decided that it is better for restaurant workers to be collecting taxpayer-funded unemployment checks than to be working a job – a job others are still clocking in at a few miles across the state line.

Unfortunately, a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the government in a lawsuit filed by the MRLA against the state. Ironically, in permitting the state’s shutdown orders, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney also acknowledged their damaging effects, stating, “Michigan restaurants are at risk of, or have already suffered, irreparable harm under Director Gordon’s [executive order].”

If you are alarmed, you should be. Restaurants are not the problem. They have already demonstrated that they can operate safely in the midst of the coronavirus. The governor’s administration is responsible for killing jobs and canceling the American Dream for too many. Whitmer and Gordon would be wise to reopen our restaurants as soon as possible.

As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by emailing senklasata@senate.mich igan.gov or calling (517) 373-6960.

Lame duck

As the 100th Legislature prepares to adjourn, there is so much that has happened, and we have so much left to accomplish in these few short days. Our friends and neighbors, the people who have sponsored so many local events and sports teams, are on the ropes. When Director Gordon extended the two-week “pause,” it was widely seen as another nail in the coffin for restaurants in our community and throughout the state. Instead of working with the Legislature, Governor Whitmer and Director Gordon issued unilateral orders that punished Michigan’s small businesses. Forty-five other states have figured out how to have safe dining, yet our DHHS director still can’t seem to figure it out. Personally, I don’t think it’s acceptable for the Legislature to adjourn without taking action to combat these overreaching orders.

The first bill in our response to these orders is House Bill 6506. This bill would prohibit state government from forcing a business to close by rule, regulation, or order if that small business is complying with health and safety precautions.

Additionally, House Bill 6507 and Senate Bill 1253 have been introduced and are moving. Those bills would limit emergency orders issued by the department to control an epidemic to just 28 days. After 28 days, an emergency order issued in response to an epidemic must be approved by a resolution in both the House and the Senate.

Doing nothing isn’t an option, and I’m hopeful enough Democrats join Republicans in passing this commonsense legislation. All coupled together; these bills will force state government to work together instead of just one person, branch, or party going it alone.

In addition to the bills listed above, we will also extend the deadlines for drivers’ licenses to unemployment benefits. It’s been an honor serving in the historic 100th Legislature, and I’m confident we will deliver for the people of our state in the remaining days of this term.

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.

A bright light at the end of this dark tunnel

Earlier this week, the eyes of the world turned to Southwest Michigan as the first shipments of Pfizer’s life-saving COVID-19 vaccine were packaged into trucks and sent across the country straight from Portage.

While finding a COVID-19 vaccine seemed like an insurmountable feat back in March, Pfizer proved that – with grit, determination, and cutting-edge science – anything is possible when America’s greatest minds embark on a mission where failure is not an option. And it’s no doubt they exceeded our expectations.

I’m also glad to have played a small part in laying the groundwork for Pfizer to make a safe and effective vaccine in record time. December 13th – the same day Pfizer shipped their vaccine – marked the four-year anniversary of President Obama signing the 21st Century Cures Act into law. This landmark, bipartisan legislation – which I spearheaded with Rep. Diana DeGette – has helped accelerate the approval and delivery of life-saving cures and vaccines.

Because of our bipartisan work and Pfizer’s incredible achievement, we’re on the cusp of vaccinating millions of Americans, and I am beyond grateful for the scientists, health care workers, and good folks at Pfizer who made this possible. They are real heroes.

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).

Get your new standardized benefit verification letter online

If you receive a Benefit Verification letter, sometimes called a “budget letter,” a “benefits letter,” a “proof of income letter,” or a “proof of award letter,” we have good news for you! A new standardized Benefit Verification letter is now available when you need proof of Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicare.

In addition to name, date of birth, and the benefits received, the new Benefit Verification letter includes other identifiers to prevent misuse and fraud. This is an added benefit to you as proof of income for loans, housing assistance, mortgage, and other verification purposes.

The same standardized letter is also available if you need proof that you do not receive benefits, or proof that benefits are pending. If you are an individual representative payee, you can use the “my Social Security” Representative Payee portal to access the same standardized Benefit Verification letter online for your beneficiaries.

This new standardized Benefit Verification letter is another example of our commitment to improve our service to you.

No matter how you request your letter, whether calling our National 800 Number, your local office, the Interactive Voice Response system, or online with your personal “my Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount, the Benefit Verification letter now contains a seamless look.

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 vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Letters to the Editor

Keep learning over the holidays

To the Coloma Community Schools community: December has brought a renewed spirit to our community. Throughout this difficult year, we at Coloma Community Schools have been frequently reminded that we are connected in this together through the support we have received.

Our high school students have been directed to continue remote learning after the recent Pause to Save Lives directive from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. As difficult as it is for students, I am proud of those who have made this a smooth and effortless transition as we have been planning for the potential switch to remote learning since the summer.

As we head into the holiday break, it is important for students to remain engaged in learning activities. While this is a time for relaxation and to spend with family, I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to encourage your child to keep learning during the time off from school. This will ensure that they are ready to hit the ground running when we return to school in early January.

A few learning ideas to consider include: Integrating math into a baking session; making a dedicated time for reading throughout the day; have children practice writing by developing a wish list or letter to a friend or family member; while shopping, ask your child questions about sales tax, adding a mathematic aspect into the trip; take hikes and get outside! You can incorporate science into your adventures, with conversations about nature, animals, and the changes in temperature.

Our principals, teachers and staff have also done a great job at providing virtual resources for students. They all are available at ccs.Coloma.org. To our community, thank you. We are privileged to serve through these challenging times. On behalf of the Board of Education and my fellow educators, I wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.

Superintendent Dave Ehlers Coloma Community Schools

Coronavirus vaccines and abortion

Editor,

Many pro-life people are rightfully concerned about using any vaccination that is not ethically created and are wondering if any of the coronavirus vaccines contain the cells of aborted babies.

The basic science behind vaccines is that a weakened strain or part of a virus is developed in a laboratory and then administered. Because the disease is weakened, the immune system is more easily able to fight it off and respond to future infections. The advent of vaccines has saved millions of lives and nearly eradicated once deadly diseases like smallpox and polio. The use of fetal cell tissue enters the process of vaccine development in two places. The first is in a “cell culture” some vaccines use to grow the virus in. These cell cultures come from a “cell line” that can grow in a laboratory setting for an extremely long time. Different vaccines are grown in all sorts of things like cell lines from monkeys, insects, or chicken eggs, yeast, etc. Sadly, some vaccines use cell lines derived from aborted babies. Most of those cell lines originated from abortions in the 1960s and 1970s. While none of the living cells from the aborted baby end up in vaccines using those cell lines, the cell lines are continually used to produce the vaccine and a non-zero amount of biological components of the babies’ cells are in the vaccine.

The second use of fetal cell lines in vaccines is in laboratory testing of some of them. It is important to know that the substance used for testing does not end up inside of the actual vaccine; thus, there is a difference between using the cell line in production and using it for testing.

Currently there are two coronavirus vaccines that have successfully completed Phase III trials: Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. Both are fetal tissue free and grown in a non-cell substance, which is good news. However, both were tested on cells from the HEK-293 cell line derived from the kidney of a child aborted in the Netherlands in 1973.

Should prolife people take these vaccines? On one hand, the abortions happened a long time ago. On the other hand, using them may encourage development of more cell lines from aborted babies. Become more informed so you can choose rightly. For more information and a list of which vaccines involved fetal cell lines, visit the Right to Life of Michigan website: RTL.org

Chris Gast Director of Communication/Education Right to Life of Michigan

Multi-fatality house fires jump 78% in 2020 over last year

(Press Release) The Michigan Fire Inspectors Society (MFIS), representing more than 600 fire inspectors and fire services members around the state, is urging residents to pay extra attention to electrical safety indoors this holiday season, a time typically more prone to residential and electrical fires. Concerns about COVID-19 has also increased the number of people staying inside for work and school increasing the use of various electrical devices, charging stations and straining access to residential electrical systems.

MFIS cautions the public they may have unknowingly overloaded outlets and power strips, damaged extension cords by pushing them under rugs or chairs, or accidentally moved countertop appliances too close to water sources and more. By adding on holiday decorations and lights, the public can create a potentially dangerous mix that could lead to electrical fires, shocking incidents or electrocutions. The MFIS says statistics suggest a need for caution and are urging all residents to follow some simple tips to protect themselves.

“We really want people to take a few minutes this year to walk around their home and look for overloaded outlets, damaged extension cords under couches or rugs, or worn out holiday lights, so they can be safe this holiday season,” said District Chief Kyle Svoboda, MFIS Executive Board president and Plainfield Fire Department district chief. “COVID-19 has kept a lot of people confined and numerous electrical devices are being plugged in everywhere. When you add on various holiday decorations and lighting, problems can occur. Electrical safety needs to be a top priority to help prevent electrical incidents and house fires.”

MFIS believes many residential electrical fires and electrical incidents could be prevented by following just a few simple precautions: Take care with cords and holiday lights; examine appliances; ensure products meet safety standards. Consider additional protection: Arcing was the heat source in approximately three of every five electrical home fires from 2012-2016, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The good news is, Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) are specifically designed to detect and stop dangerous arcing before it becomes a deadly electrical fire. For additional home safety resources and information about Michigan fire statistics, visit mfisfoundation.org. To learn more about AFCIs/GFCIs visit www.afcisafety.org.

Minimum wage increase unlikely to take effect on Jan. 1

(Press Release) The Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations, Wage and Hour Division announced Friday, Dec. 11 the state’s scheduled minimum wage increase is not expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. Michigan’s Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act of 2018 prohibits scheduled minimum wage increases when the state’s annual unemployment rate for the preceding calendar year is above 8.5%. The state’s 2020 annual unemployment rate, which is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Dept. of Labor, is calculated by using both average labor force and unemployment levels for January through December.

While Michigan’s October unemployment rate continued its downward trend and is 5.5%, the annual average from January through October currently sits at 10.2% and is highly unlikely to dip below the 8.5% threshold when BLS releases the final 2020 unemployment numbers for Michigan.

If, as expected, the annual unemployment rate does not fall below 8.5%, then effective Jan. 1, 2021: Michigan’s minimum wage will remain at $9.65 an hour. The 85% rate for minors age 16 and 17 remains $8.20 an hour. Tipped employees rates of pay remains $3.67 an hour. The training wage of $4.25 an hour for newly hired employees age 16 and 17 for their first 90 days of employment remains unchanged.

Per statute, future increases to the minimum wage rate will occur in each calendar year following a calendar year for which the unemployment rate for this state, as determined by the BLS, is less than 8.5%. See MCL 408.934(1) and (2).

Michigan’s minimum wage rate will next increase to $9.87 in the first calendar year following a calendar year for which the annual unemployment rate is less than 8.5%. See MCL 408.934(1)(h). Visit Michigan.gov/WageHour for more information regarding minimum wage.

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