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Archive | Voices and Views

New high school parking lot

As I drove in to the newly repaved High School today, I felt so grateful for the generosity of our community in making this happen. The passage of the sinking fund in 2012 allowed this major improvement to become a reality. This summer, the school was able to use these dollars to resurface the high school gym as well as improve the overall flow of traffic at the high school. We were able to add more parking spaces and eliminate the potholes too numerous to count. Without the support of voters in passing the sinking fund, this would not be possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Brook Nichols, school board President

 

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Social Security and you

Spouses have a significant benefit

Vonda VanTil

Vonda VanTil

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

 

Social Security can be an important financial asset for married couples when the time comes to apply for retirement benefits. In many cases, one spouse may have earned significantly more than the other, or have worked for a longer span of years. Or it could be that one spouse stayed home to do the work of raising the children or caring for elderly family members while the other focused on a career.

Regardless of your situation, Social Security will look at all possibilities to make sure both spouses receive the maximum benefit possible.

Even if you have not paid Social Security taxes, it’s likely you’ll be eligible to receive benefits on your spouse’s record. If you did work and pay into Social Security, we will check eligibility based on your work record and your spouse’s to see which amount is higher.

You can apply for spouses benefits the same way that you apply for benefits on your own record. You can apply for reduced benefits as early as age 62, or for 100 percent of your full retirement benefits at your “full retirement age.” You can find your full retirement age, based on your birth year, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm.

The benefit amount you can receive as a spouse, if you have reached your full retirement age, can be as much as one-half of your spouse’s full benefit. If you opt for early retirement, your benefit may be as little as a third of your spouse’s full benefit amount.

If your spouse has already reached full retirement age but continues to work, your spouse can apply for retirement benefits and request to have the payments suspended until as late as age 70. This would allow the worker to earn delayed retirement credits that will mean higher payments later, but would allow you to receive your spouse’s benefit.

You can also apply for spouse benefits based on the earnings record of an ex-spouse or deceased spouse if you were married for at least 10 years. Spouses can consider a number of options and variables. We make it easier to navigate them. A good place to start is by visiting our benefits planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners. Take note of the “Benefits As A Spouse” section.

If you are ready to apply for benefits, the fastest, easiest, and most convenient way is to apply online! You can do so at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline.

Whether you receive benefits on a spouse’s record or your own, rest assured we will make sure you get the highest benefit we can pay you. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov

 

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Catastrophic Auto Insurance rates rise

From the Insurance Institute of Michigan

 

Fireworks aren’t the only thing going up this week. An insurance assessment to reimburse insurance companies for catastrophic injuries resulting from auto crashes increased 6 percent on July 1.

The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) assessment, which covers unlimited lifetime medical costs for those injured in auto accidents, rose $11, from the $175 to $186 starting July 1, 2013.
“Just like health insurance, the cost to provide unlimited, lifetime care and medical treatment for those injured in auto crashes is rising at a staggering rate.  In 2012, the cost neared the $1 billion mark,” said Pete Kuhnmuench, Executive Director, Insurance Institute of Michigan.

Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system is unique in that it provides unlimited medical benefits for motorists injured in auto accidents.  Michigan is the only state in the country with such a high medical benefit mandate. The MCCA was created in 1978 to reimburse auto insurance companies for injury claims that exceed a certain threshold, which will be $530,000 on July 1. The MCCA then assesses all auto insurance companies to cover the costs of those catastrophic claims. The assessment is reflected in the premiums paid by Michigan policyholders.

The MCCA is required by state law to assess carriers the amount it is expected to pay for those injured in auto accidents during the upcoming year. The MCCA evaluates expectations for medical cost inflation, economic conditions, investment returns and number of claims. It is adjusted for fund surpluses or deficiencies from earlier assessments. Currently, the MCCA faces an estimated $2 billion deficit, which represents $300 per insured car. Of the $186 assessment, $29.19 is designated to recoup part of the deficit.

In 2012, the MCCA paid out $947 million, primarily for closed-head injuries, paraplegia, quadriplegia and burns. Since 1978, when the fund began, more than 29,474 claims have been reported, which will cost an estimated $83 billion over the life of the injured motorists.

Each year, an increasing number of individuals are receiving benefits from catastrophic auto accidents. Payments to full-time family or agency attendant and residential care providers comprise 60 percent of the claim payments.

The liability of the MCCA falls upon auto insurance companies in Michigan, according to Kuhnmuench. Five of those insurance companies that write over 40 percent of the state’s auto insurance serve on its Board of Directors. Those member companies are appointed by the Director of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services.  The Director serves as an ex-officio member. Information on the MCCA, including claim payment statistics, audit reports, financial statements and answers to frequently asked questions is available at www.michigancatastrophic.com.

IIM is a government affairs and public information association representing property/casualty insurance companies and related organizations operating in Michigan.   IIM member companies provide insurance to 74 percent of the automobile and 65 percent of the homeowners markets in Michigan. For more information about insurance, visit the website, www.iiminfo.org.

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From your Mayor’s Desk

Like you, who have come to me, after your stop at City Hall I am also concerned about our blight in the city right of ways, especially West Muskegon Street, the gateway to our downtown merchants. I am referring to the weeds growing three inches above the curb and tree limbs from recent wind storms. I am told that this will not be picked up until late fall, so, please don’t feel bad folks, as even hound dog Bob can’t you any answers—other than we didn’t budget any monies for weed pulling. I am also told that running a city is nothing like running a business, and I guess I can see that. For, as a businessman, I buy the truck, I pay $75 to fill the gas tank and I pay wages to the driver, so it only makes sense to have my driver stop and correct the problem when driving by the blight. I also realize that in our present system of procedures that the few minutes of cleaning up the blight would need to be charged back to that city vehicle. It sure sounds like something that came out of Washington D.C.

My wife is convinced that with your help, we can change our city’s image on every front, so over the next few months she needs your help to find that proud city employee, including the police department, fire fighters, office personnel, DPW, etc. who goes the extra mile to make our city a nicer place to be. Register that person and the good deed, at the Amish Warehouse, 141 S. Main St. She will have a $50 gift certificate, to a restaurant of your choice, for the top entry. Thank you for your prayers and support. Stop by and see me on Mondays at Cedar Springs City Hall from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Bob Truesdale, Mayor

Cedar Springs

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Medical update from your mayor

At a recent annual physical, it has been determined that I do not have leprosy or any other contagious diseases. So now, anyone, even city employees can feel free to talk with me at any time, and at any place, about anything that is troubling you. It is no secret, if Cedar Springs is going to be what it once was, it will take everyone working together. City planners, city council, city employees and all you good tax payers who pay the bills. I will have office hours at City Hall each Monday from 2-5pm. Stop in and see me!

 

Your mayor for an all new Cedar Springs. 

Thank you for your prayers and support, 

Bob Truesdale

Address: 141 S. Main St.

Phone: 696-3991

Fax: 696-2150

e-mail: awarehouse@att.net

Facebook: Bob Truesdale

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Strong families survive, and Social Security helps

V-SS-VonTilBy: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

 

June is National Family Month – a great time to reflect on family and how to make it stronger. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reminds us, strong families share many valuable qualities: trust, commitment, communication, growth, affection, fun, and love.

Strong families are more likely to grow through a crisis, allowing the difficult experience to bring them even closer together.

In the unfortunate event of a family member’s death, Social Security is there to help. In addition to the emotional difficulty family members experience, there is often a financial burden as well, especially if the family’s main wage earner dies. In such cases, Social Security survivor’s benefits will help.

Did you know that nearly every child in America could get Social Security survivors benefits if a working parent dies? Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program. Although many people think Social Security is just a retirement program, Social Security also provides survivors insurance benefits for workers and their families.

Family members who may be able to receive survivors benefits include a widow or widower, unmarried children up to age 19 and still in high school, and under certain circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren, adopted children, and dependent parents.

To learn more about survivors benefits, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

 

Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov  

 

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Sleep with my Fathers

By Robert Morrison

 

On turning 60, George Washington wrote in letters to friends: “The time is not far distant when I must sleep with my Fathers.” I was a history student reading those words. My professors told me that Washington lacked Thomas Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity of expression.” Even though I was studying at Mr. Jefferson’s university, I found it hard not to feel the beauty of Washington’s words.

“Sleeping with my Fathers” was Washington’s poetic way of describing his own impending death. I read them rather more literally. They reminded me of my own father coming home day after day from his carpenter’s job. He would sit with me in our family’s TV room and tell me wonderful stories of his seagoing days. He had sailed to 47 countries before, during, and after World War II and he was a fount of knowledge about the wider world.

Sometimes, our story hour would turn into wrestling on the TV room floor. Pop would then tell me about the need to defend myself from neighborhood bullies and teach me some self-defense moves.

Not infrequently, we would fall asleep on that floor. We would only awaken when my mother would come in and yell, “Les, take a bath and come to supper.” My father always smelled of sweat and sawdust. It was an honest, sweet scent.

Pop was proud of his work. He could drive nails faster and more accurately than any man I’ve ever known. And he often worked high atop construction sites, as sure-footed as a Mohawk. His hammer would tap out a steady rhythm: “pop, POP, pop.” It was rare that a nail required more than three swings of his hammer.

Pop would only intervene in coming-of-age fights if the toughs ganged up on me, or if one of them threatened me with a knife. Then, he would march over to the gang leader’s house and tell his old man to come out. Pop would tell that father that if his son used a weapon or ganged up, he would “knock his block off.” He never had to back up his words with his fists. In those happy days, even the toughs had fathers in the home.

It’s painful for me to read every weekend the reports of murders in our inner cities. Emergency Rooms in our major cities see too much of the “rod and gun club” casualties. More than two-thirds of the teen murderers in our prisons are fatherless young men.

Liberal politicians and press lords focus on race, poverty, education, or other indicators, the so-called “root causes” of urban homicides. They want to target more federal programs to those mean streets. As if those streets don’t have targets enough.

Rarely do the pols and pundits acknowledge fatherlessness. My blue-collar neighborhood was no garden. I often had to fight. But there was a limit to the violence. Fathers like mine enforced that limit.

There’s another factor to consider when dealing with the sources of violence: religion. In their now classic study, “Who Escapes? The Relation of Church-Going and Other Background Factors to the Socio-Economic Performance of Black Male Youths from Inner-City Poverty Tracts,” Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer showed how some young men avoided entrapment in a host of destructive behaviors and attitudes. Church-going was then seen (1985) as a protection for vulnerable youth. The work of Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (marri.org) powerfully reinforces the Freeman and Holzer’s conclusions.

When I first read those words of George Washington, that sweet reference to sleeping with his Fathers, my professors did not point out that those words were taken straight from Scripture. “So David slept with his Fathers and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kings 2:10, KJV). Washington’s readers would instantly have recognized the reference. For some years, it eluded me. Did that Bible reference also escape my learned teachers?

We are coming to the point – and may already have passed it – when Americans will no longer recognize what it means to sleep, or to wake, with our fathers.

The French understand what is at issue in the new laws abolishing mother and father in their legal code. “Everyone needs the love of a mother and a father,” said a 10-year-old marcher in one of their recent, massive Paris street demonstrations. As if he had uttered an obscenity, the YouTube video of the boy’s comments has since been removed.

Now that I have passed that meridian that George Washington called “the grand climacteric,” 60 years, I can affirm his words. I can appreciate what it means to sleep with our Fathers. I’m grateful for my own father, and for our country’s Founding Father. In speaking thus from Scripture, Washington was a model father and protector, a good and wise Grounding Father.

Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.

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Didn’t like cartoon

I am writing in reference to the cartoon on page 7 (of April 18 issue).
I feel this is in very poor taste for a newspaper to print.
I wonder how the families of the 3 people killed would feel about seeing this. You should actually be ashamed of yourselves. Being a Vietnam vet we have had enough of this type of stuff.

Donald Cronk, Solon Township
(Editor’s note: to see the cartoon from last week, download our free e-edition from our website at www.cedarspringspost.com)

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Review shows need for reform of overseas basing costs

By Sen. Carl Levin
Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which I chair, completed a year-long investigation into the costs of maintaining our nation’s overseas military presence.  The investigation produced a bipartisan report that reaches some troubling conclusions.
I directed the review of our costs in Japan, South Korea and Germany. Together, those countries account for 70 percent of the roughly $10 billion we spend each year on overseas bases – a figure that doesn’t include personnel costs to pay and take care of our troops and their families.  All three countries are also key U.S. allies. In order to better sustain our presence in these important locations, we need to understand and control our costs.
Our review found that contributions from our allies are failing to keep up with rapidly rising costs, increasing the burden on U.S. taxpayers. At the same time, allied payments are increasingly coming as in-kind , rather than cash payments.
This shift to in-kind payments makes it harder to monitor how funds are used.  In fact, our review found that, in many cases, in-kind payments are spent without proper oversight, congressional notification or approval.   In some cases, in-kind payments are being used for projects that simply aren’t necessary.
Cost increases and the use of funds on projects that aren’t mission critical are unacceptable at a time when there is incredible pressure on the defense budget and the federal budget as a whole, and when cutbacks to bases in the U.S. are under debate.
Our review found that South Korean contributions are not keeping pace with the growth in U.S. costs. While South Korea’s estimated contribution grew by about $42 million between 2008 and 2012, U.S. costs increased by more than $500 million.
Japan’s contributions also have not kept pace with U.S. costs.  For example, at its peak in 1992, Japan’s contribution to funding for infrastructure and facilities amounted to more than $1 billion. That figure has fallen by 80 percent.
Our use of in-kind payments from South Korea and Germany is especially worrisome.
South Korea’s contributions to a program that supports the construction of U.S. military facilities amounted to about $339 million in 2012 alone – all of it in-kind. But projects built using these in-kind contributions are not reviewed at all by the Department of the Army and only undergo limited review at higher headquarters or at the Pentagon. Congress isn’t even notified, let alone given a chance to review and approve these projects. That lack of oversight increases the chance that funds will go to non-essential projects. In fact, our review found that plans for using in-kind contributions include a $10.4 million museum.
In Germany, we receive in-kind payments as compensation for facilities that we turn over to the German government as we reduce our military presence there. We found millions of dollars of in-kind payments from Germany earmarked for projects that simply don’t make sense. For example, $200,000 was spent on sunroom additions for senior officer homes.
We also have to take a hard look at the cost of our future commitments.
In South Korea, the Army has proposed a public-private venture to build housing for military families that, if approved, would add hundreds of millions of dollars to our costs. Setting aside questions about the wisdom of bringing additional families in the region while North Korea continues its belligerence, the plan is simply not affordable.
The Defense Department is also planning a series of troop movements in the Asia-Pacific region. We found that rough estimates provided for some items in the plan are highly speculative and do not account for potentially significant additional costs. Congress already has barred most spending on these projects until the Pentagon produces more detailed and useful estimates, and our review found no reason to set aside those conditions.
The military should always be careful with taxpayer dollars. There is never a good time for large construction projects to go forward with little or no oversight. But at a time when the military, and the entire federal government, are facing significant budget cuts, cuts that will damage our national security and important domestic programs, the current situation is simply not acceptable. I’m working with my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to develop reforms that will increase oversight and help ensure that we only spend money on projects we really need.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

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More progress in the fight against tax abuses

By Sen. Carl Levin

 

In March, the Senate passed a budget resolution. This blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October represents an important step forward on an issue of great significance to American taxpayers: the need for balanced deficit reduction.

An important part of balanced deficit reduction is reducing the deficit without severely damaging important protections for and investments in American families. One way to do that is by ending unjustified tax loopholes and ending the damage they have inflicted on our budget. The budget summary released by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, decried “the sheer magnitude of the revenue lost to off-shore tax abuse, wasteful and inefficient loopholes, and other business tax breaks.”

For many years as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I have focused on the maze of offshore schemes and complex gimmicks that are concocted to allow a privileged few to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. Our subcommittee has, on a bipartisan basis, filled volume after volume with damning detail on how these schemes work and the damage they cause.

Now we are at a moment in history when we can remove this blight. The pressures on the federal budget and the threat to economic growth and prosperity that they represent require action. We must close these loopholes. The relentless arithmetic of our budget situation compels it; fairness and justice demand it.

During the budget debate, a number of senators joined me on the Senate floor to speak about the need to close tax loopholes. We outlined the preposterous contortions that too many corporations and wealthy individuals employ to avoid paying taxes, and how those contortions contribute to a shift in the tax burden from corporations and the wealthy to middle-class families and small businesses.

The case for additional revenue and for closing tax loopholes as a source of that revenue is overwhelming. Serious deficit reduction requires more revenue, as everyone from the Simpson-Bowles Commission to the Domenici-Rivlin task force to the Concord Coalition to Fix the Debt, has recognized. Federal revenue remains significantly below its historic average as a percentage of the gross domestic product of our economy, and that revenue is, and under current trends will continue to be, below the levels we have needed in the recent past to balance the budget.

In particular, the loss of corporate tax revenues is an ongoing cause of deficits.  In 2006, corporate tax revenue made up about 15 percent of all federal revenue. In 2012, it had fallen to 10 percent. Somebody has to pick up the slack. In this case it has been average American families.

Why is corporate revenue a shrinking share of our Treasury even though the U.S. corporate tax rate, at 35 percent, is one of the highest in the developed world? It is because the top tax rate doesn’t tell the story. While our tax rate at the upper limit is 35 percent on corporations, the average U.S. corporate taxpayer’s effective tax rate was just 12 percent in 2011, which is the lowest in generations.

A recent study by two think tanks found that 30 of our largest corporations with combined profits of more $160 billion paid no income tax, zero, from 2008 to 2010.

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations outlined in a report last year how three U.S. companies—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—used offshore gimmicks to avoid taxes on almost $80 billion in profits.

But momentum is building to stop these abuses. Earlier this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joined me in introducing the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act. Our bill would help address some of these tax schemes and others as well. It is a powerful weapon in our deficit-reduction arsenal if we will use it.

During the budget debate, Sen. Whitehouse and I were joined by Sen. John McCain of Arizona in introducing a bipartisan amendment recognizing the need to close corporate tax loopholes. The Senate approved our amendment, putting the Senate on the record on the need to end offshore tax abuses by large corporations.

We can’t afford these loopholes. We can’t afford the budget deficits they help cause, and we can’t afford the damage they do to ordinary families and small businesses. I’ll keep working to strengthen the momentum for reforms that end these abuses.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 

 

 

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