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12-31-2020 Letters & Commentary

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HEALTHY NEW YEAR… I hope you had a happy Christmas and wish you a Happy New Year.

Anne and I celebrated Christmas with Amy and Bill Loshbough and their kids and grandkids. It was wonderful, plenty of good food, presents, games and snow. With the new health codes demanded by the pandemic COVID-19, folks were all obliged to wear face masks and keep their distance of six feet when in any situation outside of a family gathering.

While we all greet others with a Happy New Year, this year greeting has special meaning with the past year in the grasp of the coronavirus for nearly all 12 months. The numbers of sick and dying worldwide are staggering, with cases reported in Antarctica this weekend leaves nowhere to go to escape the virus.

Perhaps we should wish family and friends with a Healthy New Year. THANK YOU to the healthcare workers, police and firemen, public servants, school teachers and staff, employers and employees, clergy and churches for doing all they can to help us through these COVID-19 dark days. We will all help weather this plague, by observing mandates instituted to keep us all safe, and can aid those struggling with health and grieving issues.

FRONT PAGE CALENDER…. For many years a New Year’s tradition was to print a full year Community Calendar on the front page of the Tri-City Record. It was dropped five years ago as interest seemed to wane. This year when so many community events were canceled, and with no promise of it being any different in 2021 it seems to be more important to celebrate the new days coming. Thanks to the local businesses that sponsored the coming months.

Seek where you are going

“Look where you’re going!” our parents instructed us when we tripped over obstacles in our path as we walked or ran. As adults, we know to do that instinctively. When it comes to the future, however, and whatever the next year holds for us, it’s not so easy to look where we are going because we have no idea what our year will hold. We can’t look where we are going because we have no idea where we are going.

Sometimes, looking forward requires looking back – looking back to our wider skill set, looking back to other creative opportunities of the past, looking back to those things that really motivated us in the first place and reinvest in them while establishing short-term and long-term goals. We need not look back to 2020 as a defeat, or only as a loss. For many, 2020 was not just a year of challenge, but a year of new directions, exciting directions, even profitable and fulfilling directions. The year 2020 can contain the seeds of future greater opportunity and success – seeds of new learning.

But how to go forward? Start with prayer, asking God for wisdom and direction on how to proceed. That may be new to us, but start anyway. Ask also for help in figuring out what God wants us to do with our lives, big picture, and how we can encourage others. And in praying, we should thank God for hearing us personally. This helps us realize we’re not talking to the wall, that He is actually paying attention in all of this and that He does care about us. Then continue regularly in prayer, seeking to detect answers.

Going forward in hope, instead of backward in despair may require a new relationship with God. Be open for that as well. It would be a gateway to a very good 2021 no matter what it brings.

Serving and helping Southwest Michigan is my top priority

The year 2020 will be remembered as one of the most difficult in many of our lifetimes. Issues that people never thought they would have to deal with arose and I have never been more proud to be serving in the Legislature to be able to help.

Among the biggest problems 21st Senate District residents had to contend with was the state’s unemployment system. The overwhelming strain that the system has had to endure due to the onslaught of jobless claims filings from the governor’s stay at home orders exposed the system’s weaknesses. Thousands of area residents who lost their jobs through no fault of their own expected this failsafe to be there and they were met with unimaginable problems. My staff and I stepped in to help as many people as we could and were able to assist in over 1,000 jobless claims getting resolved. Many of the system’s problems have been addressed, but if you are having problems, please fill out the form on my website at and we will do what we can to help you.

As your voice at the Capitol, keeping in touch with you and knowing your priorities and concerns is essential to being able to best represent you in the Senate. That is why I sent out 219,403 newsletters to residents this year, hosted 11 in-district coffee hour events and held three virtual town halls. The virtual events were particularly beneficial this year, and over 5,000 people participated, which was great. I also appreciate that 166 people took the time to fill out my district survey and provided your legislative priorities — these responses will help me formulate bills and positions going forward.

While 2020 was a tough year, I am heartened by the resiliency of Southwest Michiganders. Your strength and endurance is remarkable, and I believe that we will emerge from a challenging 2020 stronger and better. As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling 517-373-6960 or emailing

A New Year guided by unity

It’s no doubt that this year has been tough. The COVID-19 pandemic has tragically claimed countless lives, shuttered small businesses, and ground our way of life to a screeching halt. And nearly ten months since this vicious virus landed on our shores, folks are still struggling.

Amid these difficult times, we’ve also seen bitter division strain our country and push us apart. The challenges that lie ahead – from distributing vaccines to defeating COVID-19 – are far too great to allow our governing institutions to devolve into partisan politics.

While we’re all eager to usher in a happier and healthier new year, we must recommit our efforts to work together and tackle the toughest issues facing our nation. Thankfully, Congress did just that last week as we passed much-needed COVID-19 relief for hardworking families, small businesses, and hospitals in a real display of unity. This is the framework that we must continue to emulate – both Democrats and Republicans – as we look to deliver results for the American people in the 117th Congress.

On the eve of 2021, let’s leave the divisive rhetoric behind and chart a new path forward with civility and compromise serving as our guiding lights. Future generations are counting on us to demonstrate what’s possible when we join hands and move forward – together.

To learn more about important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or by visiting my website: 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).

Start of the 101st

As this year finally comes to an end, I want to highlight some of the last session’s most significant accomplishments and take a brief look at the upcoming term.

When I first ran in 2018, car insurance reform was the number one issue I heard from people at their doors. The cost was too high, and it was crushing the budgets of Southwest Michigan families. Since the reforms passed, Michigan drivers finally have a choice, and the MCCA fee has fallen for the second consecutive year. A fee that was widely expected to continue growing has been slashed from $220 per vehicle per year to now only $86. This is a huge win that proves our reforms worked. The most important issue that I have personally worked on was criminal justice reforms. This term alone, my colleagues and I have reformed our civil asset forfeiture laws; we’ve joined 46 other states by raising the age of juvenile prosecution from 17 years old to 18; and most importantly, we set the gold standard in terms of reforming our expungement policy. Thanks to these reforms, hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents with low-level offenses now have an opportunity for new and better career, housing, and educational opportunities. I’m incredibly proud to have played a part in leading these reforms the last two years, and I look forward to continuing this bipartisan work in the upcoming term.

As the 101st Legislature is set to begin, the most important issue we have to tackle will be helping our small businesses and communities recover from this pandemic. While the package we passed at the end of the 100th Legislature will help, the best stimulus would be giving small businesses a fighting chance by allowing them to open and operate within the safety guidelines.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in 2021, and I’m excited to continue serving our community in the 101st Legislature. If I can ever be of assistance to you, you can reach me via email at or by phone at 517-373-1403. You can also visit my website at

Hearings with Social Security during COVID-19

In March 2020, we temporarily closed all of our Social Security Hearing Offices due to the coronavirus pandemic and are not offering in-person hearings. During the office closures, we are providing two flexible, safe, and secure hearing options: either a telephone hearing or our new option of an online video hearing. Additional information on both of these hearing options is available here: What are “online video hearings”? Online video hearings are a secure way to conduct hearings over the internet, using a free platform called Microsoft Teams. You and your representative, if you have one, can attend the online video hearing safely and securely from any private place with a secure internet connection using a camera-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Like our telephone hearings option, the online video hearings option is not mandatory. We will conduct online video hearings the same way we conduct telephone and in-person hearings. During the hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) will swear in all hearing participants and listen to your testimony. You will see the ALJ and representative, if one has been appointed. Other participants, such as vocational/medical experts and interpreters, will join by phone.

What are the technology requirements to participate in an online video hearing? You and an appointed representative, if applicable, must have access to email and a personal computer, laptop, or Android/Apple tablet or mobile device with a secure and private, high-speed WiFi or cellular data connection. The device must have a camera, microphone, and speakers. If using a mobile device, you must download the free Microsoft Teams application.

We will send you a link to a user guide that explains how to access and use Microsoft Teams before the date of an online video hearing. Please read our publication Online Video Hearings at the Social Security Administration at for additional information. A short video about online video hearings is available at

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

Letters to the Editor

Thank you Dan for your many kindnesses

Dear Editor,

It took from September until just recently for the Watervliet Fire Board to fire Dan Jones from his position of Fire Chief. Hopefully that signaled the Fire Board took its responsibility to the citizens of the city and township seriously.

But as a citizen, I would like to thank Dan for the professionalism he always had shown towards me; both when as a member of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and privately. Whenever the DDA had a meeting where more space was needed for the public than City Hall Chambers would suffice, the meeting room at the Fire Station was always available to us. Dan would often have the coffee on for us.

As a citizen being somewhat mobility challenged and prone to falling in my adage, Dan was frequently the first to respond; whether a call for help getting up was made to 911 or Pride Care Ambulance.

Two thoughts come to mind, first to be able to have a person like Chief Jones care about a private citizen enough to respond so quickly and two that living in a small town like Watervliet helps one feel as if they are not just a number.

All this in saying, “Thank you Dan for your many kindnesses” and every best to you as you move forward in your life. Robert Becker, Watervliet

Watervliet Charter Township “Supervisor” – I think not


I attended the December Watervliet Charter Township Board Zoom meeting and realized that, as a result of words and actions taken, the Township “Supervisor” has a curious, if not untenable, means of responding to monetary issues affecting the Paw Paw Lake Landowners.

When asked why the Special Assessment District (S.A.D.) Meeting Minutes were not posted as required by Michigan Law, the “Supervisor” responded with his newly acquired hiding place, “You will have to ask the Township Attorney.”

When asked why there are no competitive bids for Spicer and PLM contracts as required by Watervliet Charter Township Policies and Procedures, the “Supervisor’s” response was “We have an on-going relationship”. Clearly, this “…on-going relationship” has failed miserably. Another $100,000-plus Sonar treatment is required since the intuitively obvious solution of fixing the drains, identified 10 years ago, has not been adequately addressed. To date, S.A.D. has spent more than $1,000,000 with no demonstrated progress.

When asked why Watervliet Charter Township refuses to apply for federal and state grants available for the lake clean-up, the “Supervisor’s” response was “…have not found any…do it yourself…” even though, at his request, I provided all the information necessary for grant application six months ago.

The S.A.D. Committee leaves much to be desired or more to the point, expected of them. Michigan Law and Watervliet Charter Township Policies and Procedures seemingly no longer apply to the detriment of us taxpayers. And oh yes, as experienced by myself, one should be alerted to the fact that depending on questions or issues brought forth by a participant during a Zoom meeting, one may be unceremoniously and illegally muted by either the Township Clerk or at the direction of a Committee Member. Thomas J. O’Donnell

Biden’s appointees are exceptionally diverse and highly qualified


President-elect Joe Biden has promised that his administration will represent the diversity of our country. Based on his appointments to date, Biden is well on his way to fulfilling that promise. Of the twenty cabinet and cabinet-level appointees that have been announced as of Dec. 24, ten are women, one is a gay man, eleven are people of color (five African-Americans, three Hispanic-Americans, two Asian-Americans, one Native American), and five are white men.

Many of these appointments are historic firsts: Janet Yellen will be the first female Treasury Secretary; Lloyd Austin will be the first African-American Secretary of Defense; Deb Haaland will be the first Native American Secretary of the Interior; Xavier Becerra will be the first Latino-American Secretary of Health and Human Services; Pete Buttigieg will be the first openly gay Transportation Secretary; Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino-American Secretary of Homeland Security; Katherine Tai will be the first Asian-American U.S. Trade Representative; Avril Haines will be the first female Director of National Intelligence; Michael Regan will be the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; Neera Tanden will be the first woman and the first Asian-American Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Cecilia Rouse will be the first woman of color to Chair the Council of Economic Advisers.

Each of the individuals that President-elect Biden has appointed to Cabinet or Cabinet-Level positions is highly qualified. America will be well-represented by these appointments.

On Jan. 20, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are inaugurated as our country’s next president and vice-president, they will have a diverse team of extremely capable and dedicated individuals to help lead our country forward to a brighter, more prosperous, and more equitable future. Gretta Van Bree, Lincoln Twp.

Eligible Michigan restaurants can now enroll in program to provide hot meals to food assistance recipients

(Press release) The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is launching a new program that will give eligible food assistance recipients the opportunity to use their benefits to purchase restaurant meals.

Older adults over 60, people with a disability including those who receive Social Security Income (SSI) or other disability program benefits, and people experiencing homelessness are among those who are eligible. “No Michigander should worry about how to put food on the table for themselves and their families, especially during a pandemic,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “This partnership with our restaurants will ensure people across the state have the support they need this winter. I am grateful for the restaurants that participate in this program and will continue to work around the clock to ensure support for every family. Remember, Michiganders: mask up, practice social distancing, and wash your hands frequently. We will get through this together.”

The goal of the Restaurant Meal Program (RMP) is to serve residents who face difficulty preparing their own food due to disability, age, or lack of kitchen access. MDHHS is opening the program for restaurants to enroll with the aim of providing diverse and affordable options for eligible participants across the state.

Restaurants could begin enrolling Dec. 22. MDHHS will announce at a later date when eligible food assistant recipients can start redeeming their benefits at participating restaurants.

Across Michigan, more than 180,000 seniors, 134,000 residents with disabilities and 1,200 residents experiencing homelessness will soon be able to use their Bridge Card to buy discounted meals at participating restaurants.

Restaurants must first enroll in the program and be approved before eligible participants can make purchases. MDHHS will publish a list of participating restaurants on its website and encourages restaurants to advertise this benefit to their patrons directly.

Restaurants interested in partnering with MDHHS in this program are asked to visit the MDHHS website, where they can learn more about program requirements and how to enroll. Participating restaurants must offer meals at concessional prices.

Eligible participants can buy meals at participating restaurants with their Bridge Card in a manner similar to purchasing groceries. As restaurants enroll in the program and are approved to provide this service, more information about food assistance recipient eligibility will be forthcoming. If a food assistance recipient feels they meet the criteria of being disabled or homeless, MDHHS encourages them to contact their local MDHHS office. RMP expands the list of options available to eligible participants who need hot prepared meals. MDHHS offers several options for providers to service prepared meals to food assistance recipients such as Meals on Wheels, meals at senior citizen centers/residential settings, drug/alcohol treatment programs, shelters for battered women and children, communal dining facilities (for the elderly and disabled only), group living arrangements, and homeless meal providers.


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