This time of year is different than ever before for us. For some, the changes are devastating. We felt comfortable with the routines we had enjoyed, but now we feel vulnerable and displaced from our comfort zones. We can become disoriented, even depressed. This is normally a difficult time of year for many. With the added isolation imposed by COVID-19 restrictions, justified or not, the result is even more stress. We need to understand that this is temporarily normal, and that this is a shared experience. We are not alone.
Many churches would be beginning the Advent celebration theme. Christmas carols would be sung. Messages would focus on Jesus’ coming to Bethlehem. We would look forward to “Silent Night, Holy Night” – together. That may not happen for us this year. Can we find ways to be encouraged even when seasonal family gatherings are officially discouraged? Only if we look outside the boundaries of our experience and find ways to reach out for connection – not necessarily to get connection, but to give connection. Reaching out can take many forms. Be creative. It could be a phone call or text to someone we’ve not spoken with for a long time, or to a distant family member. It could be sending a Christmas note to an extended Christmas card list of people that could use some encouragement. It could be helping someone become more computer savvy by teaching them to use social media. Maybe helping someone set up their Internet so they can become more connected. Whatever it is, it will involve reaching outside our current limits of connections – reaching outside ourselves to help others – to show love to others by giving them some of our time, energy, and commitment. The times are difficult, but we can develop new, healthy routines that sow seeds of encouragement all around us. We may discover new encouragement for ourselves in the process.
More auto insurance savings
For decades, Lansing has tried and failed to reform our broken auto-insurance system. As I ran for my first term in office, this was the number one issue I heard about from the people of our community. After months of negotiations, the Legislature and the Governor passed a historic bipartisan auto-insurance reform law that has already benefited every Michigan driver. When the bill was initially passed, people were rightfully skeptical about receiving the benefits that were promised by supporters of reform. After decades, was this something that was finally going to happen? Last year, the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association slashed their annual fee by 55%. Before insurance reform passed, you could certainly count on seeing your insurance rates and this fee go up every single year. As the reforms are entering their second year, Michigan drivers will see yet another reduction in the MCCA fee. This time, it’s falling to just $86 – the lowest it’s been since 2003. So far, under the bipartisan reforms passed, the MCCA fee has fallen by a total of 61%; a huge savings for drivers who continue to choose unlimited lifetime medical coverage.
The new auto insurance law is continuing to pay dividends to drivers across our state. From once having the highest rates in the nation, Michigan is now starting to be more competitive with our neighboring states.
When I first ran for office, the number one issue I heard about from people in our community was the need to reform our broken auto-insurance system. I’m proud to have delivered on a promise I made to Southwest Michigan residents, and I will continue looking for ways to make our reforms even better and bring even more savings to residents of our community.
New auto insurance law saving people real money
The biggest change to auto insurance in our state in generations took effect just months ago. Reforming the formerly outdated auto no-fault law was one of my biggest goals for this term and getting the new law signed was a proud moment of cooperation during an otherwise increasingly divisive period in our state and nation.
The reforms were designed to save drivers money by offering more options to better meet individual needs, while improving coverage and consumer protections.
As a refresher, Michigan law requires most auto insurance policyholders to carry personal injury protection (PIP) on policies, which covers medical costs if a driver is in an auto accident. On July 1, for the first time, motorists became able to choose from a selection of new coverage levels to better meet their needs and budgets.
Under the new law, policies that maintain the unlimited PIP option are still required to pay a per vehicle auto no-fault assessment. In about 20 years, this assessment, which is set by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), increased from about $6 per vehicle to $220 by the time we enacted the new law.
But thanks to the savings built in to the new no-fault law, that annual assessment has fallen by 61% already and, last week, the MCCA announced the fee will be lowered in the coming year to $86 per vehicle for policyholders with the unlimited PIP option. This is good news, and it is great to see how much of an impact the new no-fault law is making so soon. As good as it is, there is still more money to be saved. By opting out of the unlimited PIP option and choosing one of the new tiered plans, drivers will not pay the MCCA assessment fee at all. And if you have qualifying health insurance coverage, you may opt out of the medical PIP portion altogether. It’s great to see how much money people are saving with the new auto insurance law. If you haven’t taken a close look at your policy since July 1, I would encourage you to contact your agent to discuss your options to find the best savings for your individual and family needs.
As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by emailing senklasata@senate. michigan.gov or calling (517) 373-6960.
Every American can trust the COVID-19 vaccine – here’s why
While we all continue to fiercely battle the coronavirus pandemic tooth and nail, there is truly hope on the horizon. Just this week, Moderna applied for emergency use authorization to mass produce its COVID-19 vaccine, and Pfizer has loaded hundreds of thousands of its doses on planes for nationwide distribution.
This is certainly great news as we look to save lives, recharge our economy, and return to some sense of normalcy in the new year. However, these major scientific achievements would never have been possible without the full support of the federal government.
Thanks to programs like Operation Warp Speed – the first of its kind – we were able to manufacture a number of highly effective vaccines in a few months’ time, while still adhering to the strictest health and safety standards. Folks can be completely confident that these vaccines are not only effective, but perfectly safe.
I would certainly encourage every American to take the vaccine to not only protect themselves, but also their loved ones, their communities, and the millions of frontline and healthcare workers that have put their lives on the line every single day. Together, I know that we can truly defeat this vicious virus once and for all.
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).
Social Security benefits increase in 2021
Nearly 70 million Americans will see a 1.3 percent increase in their Social Security benefits and SSI payments in 2021. Federal benefit rates increase when the cost-of-living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI-W).
The CPI-W rises when inflation increases, leading to a higher cost-of-living. This change means prices for goods and services, on average, are a little more expensive, so the COLA helps to offset these costs.
January 2021 marks other changes that will happen based on the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax in 2021 will be higher. The retirement earnings test exempt amount will also change in 2021. You can read our press release for more information at www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2021.pdf.
We will mail COLA notices throughout the month of December to retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and representative payees. Want to know your new benefit amount sooner? You can securely view and save the Social Security COLA notice online via the Message Center inside my Social Security in early December without waiting for the mailed notice.
If you don’t have an account yet, you will have to create your account by November 18, 2020 to receive the COLA notice online this year. “my Social Security” account holders can opt out of receiving a mailed COLA notice and other paper notices that are available online. You can choose text or email alerts when there is a notice in Message Center by updating your Preferences at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/opt-out.html so you always know when we have something important for you.
Be the first to know! Sign up for or log in to your personal account today at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Choose email or text under “Message Center Preferences” to receive courtesy notifications. This way you won’t miss your online COLA notice!
You can find more information about the 2021 COLA at www.ssa.gov/cola. 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.
OUR CHRISTMAS BIRTHDAY BOY… My brother Steve was born on Christmas Day. Mom went into labor at midnight mass. Dad must have had Santa’s help to get mom to the hospital, wait for Steve to arrive (no worry, he was mom’s 11th) and then get home in time for Santa’s arrival. He made it. Indeed, he had to get some of us out of bed. “Karl. Get up. You have a baby brother.”
I didn’t need a second invitation to see what was for me under the Christmas tree. I had been asking Santa for a Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist dummy for a couple years. With three older brothers, I got all the hand-me-downs; bikes and BB guns included.
In fairness, brother John got a used bike, sanded and painted it, tightened the brakes and the wheel spokes and polished the chrome. He painted it bright red and black and gave it to me for Christmas. It was stashed on the front porch. I didn’t have a clue when Dad sent me out there for something under a blanket! That was the best present ever.
Boy was I excited in hopes of getting that Jerry Mahoney dummy. In my nine-year-old brain I didn’t equate a baby brother with something real neat, perhaps a ventriloquist dummy.
When I got downstairs, there wasn’t the usual stampede to get Dad through breakfast so he could pass out the gifts. It might have finally dawned (on me) where’s Mom? She wasn’t herding us through the Christmas ritual (see Karl’s Kolumn in a couple weeks).
Everybody was talking about the new baby. It appeared I was the only one interested in the pile of presents. I nonchalantly nudged a few, determining approximate size and weight. None fit my expectations of the ventriloquist dummy resting in its own box, with blank eyes and the goofy grin. I don’t remember much of that Christmas. Apparently, the older sisters were already at the hospital to help Mom and to meet their (our) baby brother Stephen Christian Bayer.
Come the next Christmas morning, a year later. I got the Jerry Mahoney doll. I was surprised but by then I was more interested in playing with baby Steve.
The dummy never lived up to my expectations. I found talking through clenched teeth and delivering jokes not what the magazine ads promised. By spring time, I no longer told my sisters they couldn’t play with him (it). I didn’t notice that the dummy was left outdoors frequently. When I did, the dummy was a sodden mess, the straw stuffing smelled and the paint was rubbing off.
I put it on top of the water heater to dry it out. A day or two later the soggy smelly mess was stinking up the basement. Its head (face) had melted grotesquely. I couldn’t look it in the eye; the other had slid under its shirt collar. I took it out to the burn barrel; it was my chore to burn the trash and garbage. We were a large family, most nights there was a trash fire. I never saw the dummy again.
Sadly, Steve left us a few years ago. He had finished mowing his lawn and a neighbor saw him drive his garden tractor into the shed but didn’t see him come out. In his early 50s, a heart attack took him from us much too soon. Now, every Christmas I think of him coming to us on this special day.
God Bless Us All.
Letters to the Editor
Serving in a pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we all hope the light is at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has paid some sort of a price in 2020. Some have lost jobs. Others have had friends pass away and not been able to grieve in normal ways. Many of us have not been able to see loved ones for special occasions and the Holidays. We have all suffered in some sort of way. As the president of the Watervliet Lion’s Club, I have been looking for new ways to serve our community. While community projects like building a new playground are wonderful, I feel like we need to do more right now. The Watervliet Lions are starting a GoFundMe to help those in the Watervliet community that need help now. One hundred percent of money raised will go to local Watervliet churches for three primary things: food assistance, utility bill assistance, and Christmas baskets to needy families. We would greatly appreciate any donation, no matter how small. Thank you for any help.
To donate please go to Fundraiser by Christian Blough: Watervliet Lion’s Club Holiday Drive (gofundme.com). Checks are also accepted, please make to Watervliet Lion’s Club, PO Box 705, Watervliet, MI 49098. Lion Christian Blough
I wish I would have known Matilda Kaucher
Miss the weekly columns of my dear friend, Roy “Bud” Davis, but am enjoying those other columns from the past.
Of special interest was Beyond Shingle Diggin’s May 18, 1994 “Remembering your great-grandmother Matilda Kaucher” [Nov. 19 issue, Page 4]. Hartford girl, Dora Thar, daughter of Matt Thar, married Victor Kaucher and they added to and carried on the family farms. Sadly, “Vic” passed away mid-life after a long battle with cancer. It was during this time that I became a good friend of the family, on down through Betsy and Stephanie. I never met Matilda Kaucher; but so impressive was Dorothy Stark Cannell’s description of her that I wish that I had known her.
The writer tells of being asked by Mrs. Kaucher to interpret a letter to her from a lady in East Germany, pleading for food essentials et al. The lady had sounded suspiciously supportive of Hitler prompting Mrs. Cannell to question her deserving of help. “Dorothy,” Mrs. Kaucher replied, “when people are hurting and hungry we do not need to ask if they are deserving. It is not our responsibility to judge, only to help. Could you live with yourself if you refused?”
That says so much. Think how appropriate it is today!
Thank you for choosing to repeat the publication of that particular column! Arlene Ward, Hartford
A new era of honesty, integrity, competence has begun
A fresh breeze is blowing across our national political landscape, bringing with it a new era of honesty, integrity, and competence.
Despite the persistent efforts of Donald Trump and his Republican accomplices to undermine our democracy, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will become our next president and vice-president on January 20th, 2021. President-elect Biden has begun the process of selecting his cabinet. The individuals he has announced so far are a historically diverse group of very experienced, very competent public servants. A few examples: Antony Blinken is the nominee for Secretary of State. Blinken served as the Deputy National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2015 and Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017.
The nominee for Director of National Intelligence is Avril Haines, who previously served as the Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the CIA. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to lead National Intelligence.
Alejandro Mayorkas is the nominee to become Secretary of Homeland Security. Mayorkas served as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2016. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead Homeland Security.
The nominee for United Nations Ambassador is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an African-American career diplomat who previously served as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
Joe Biden has nominated an outstanding group of individuals to lead our country’s diplomatic and national security operations. They are all very familiar with the agencies they will be leading and are very committed to those agencies successfully carrying out their responsibilities.
The Biden-Harris administration has already demonstrated that it will be a refreshing contrast to the incompetence and corruption of the Trump administration.
A new era is beginning – an era in which our president, vice president, White House staff, and cabinet appointees will all reflect the best qualities of our nation.
Larry Feldman, Lakeside
Eligible small businesses able to apply for grants starting on Dec. 15
(Press Release) The Michigan Strategic Fund approved a $10 million grant program to help meet the urgent needs of small businesses disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced. The Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative will utilize federal CARES Act funding to award grants of up to $15,000 to more than 650 small businesses across Michigan. The application period for small businesses seeking grants will begin on Tuesday, December 15.
The Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative is intended to meet the urgent need of Michigan businesses including restaurants and bars, lodging providers, live event venues and movie theaters, conference and meeting facilities, indoor recreation facilities, and gyms and fitness centers. The grants under the program will support those businesses facing drastic reductions in cash flow and the continued support of their workforce and may be used for working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, or utility expenses.
The program will provide a total of $10 million to one or more qualified grant administrators, who will administer and allocate grants of up to $15,000 each to eligible businesses around the state. Funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis and the application window for small businesses will close once the targeted allocations within each of the state’s 10 prosperity regions are reasonably expected to be met. To qualify for grant support, businesses must meet a number of criteria, including but not limited to: Being a business in one of the targeted industries; identifying a need for payroll, rent, or mortgage payments, and/or utility expenses necessary to continue or restart business operations; having at least two employees (including the owner) but fewer than 50; additional eligibility requirements can be found on Michiganbusiness.org/relief.
In addition, applicants will be required to self-certify that they are following all state and local orders related to COVID-19, including, but not limited to, those issued by DHHS and county health departments. In total, the MEDC has now launched 20 COVID-19 relief and recovery programs that have supported more than 18,500 businesses in the state and helped to retain nearly 147,000 jobs across all 83 counties. The Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative is expected to benefit at least 670 small businesses and their employees. To learn more about MEDC’s COVID-19 response programs and the impact they are having on economic recovery efforts, visit michiganbusiness.org/covid19response. Other resources for economic reopening efforts as well as businesses across Michigan struggling with economic losses as a result of the COVID-19 virus can be found online at michiganbusiness.org/covid19.
MI AG Nessel joins effort to urge Congress to pass extension for CARES Act funding as pandemic impacts economy
(Press Release) Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general representing 43 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories urging Congress to extend the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy (CARES) Act funding until the end of 2021.
“The CARES Act has provided needed financial support to our communities during this particularly difficult period in our nation’s history, and given the current status of the pandemic, that assistance will be needed well into the new year,” Nessel said. “As our country continues to face the challenges presented by COVID-19, we must make every effort to work together toward recovery, and Congress has the opportunity to do exactly that by extending this deadline.”
With several pending measures, including bipartisan extension measures in both the House and Senate, the attorneys general urge Congress to pass one of these measures to give states and local communities additional time to utilize the COVID-relief resources.
COVID-19 has negatively impacted nearly every facet of American society. In anticipation of unprecedented costs and economic disruption stemming from the pandemic, Congress passed the CARES Act in March. The move provided more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus to state and local governments in an effort to combat the impacts of the pandemic. One of the restrictions placed on the funding, however, limits the money’s use to expenses incurred between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 30, 2020. As the pandemic continues to set record infections, states and local communities will continue to incur COVID-related expenses next year. By extending the deadline, communities nationwide will be able to be more strategic with the use of CARES Act funds, the attorneys general said.