The Detroit News. Nov. 28, 2020
Jobless agency still failing unemployed
There’s not much worse than being out of work, especially around the holidays. And for the thousands of Michiganians who are still waiting for unemployment benefits, it’s inexcusable that the state hasn’t rectified the glitches in its jobless system - eight months after pandemic shutdowns began.
Now with new COVID-19 restrictions from the state Health Department and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer once again impacting restaurants, theaters and casinos, among other businesses, expect unemployment claims to spike over the next few weeks.
Just last week unemployment claims in Michigan almost doubledfrom the week prior to more than 32,000.
The state shutdown orders are responsible for much of these layoffs, and the state has a responsibility to ease their impact on the laid-off workers.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency has to prepare for the anticipated influx of claims, but it must first address the backlog ASAP.
While the initial flood of claims this spring following the state’s lockdown overwhelmed Michigan’s unemployment system - as happened in other states - the UIA didn’t adjust quickly enough to the increased demand, leaving many unemployed individuals feeling helpless to navigate an already cumbersome website. In April, the state unemployment rate reached 24%.
To make matters worse, Michigan’s unemployment offices have remained closed since the pandemic began, leaving the jobless without much recourse to resolve problems.
It wasn’t until the end of last month that the UIA finally allowed for scheduled phone appointments to help individuals with claim issues. Before that, it was nearly impossible to talk to an agent by phone - or even leave a message.
Next week, the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic is hearing testimony from new UIA Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson, whom Whitmer appointed earlier this month after Director Steve Gray resigned.
A spokesman for committee chairman Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, says the group plans to get updated numbers and a progress report from the agency, as it has during previous meetings this year.
“We heard stories from people who had not been paid timely for their claims and were struggling to pay bills and put food on the table through no fault of their own,” Hall said in a statement following Gray’s resignation early this month. “We still must hear how the UIA plans to address these problems going forward - including how they will better communicate issues as they arise, combat fraud and deliver a more user-friendly service.”
Lawmakers should demand answers from Olson regarding the long claim delays, as well as reports of false fraud accusations, which have slowed approval for many filers.
Without additional unemployment support from the federal government, Michigan filers will be fully dependent on this state for assistance. It should be ready to help them.
The Mining Journal. Nov. 24, 2020
Safe winter driving can save lives so use great caution
With winter well on its way, we’re starting to see snow, ice and slush on the roads. Many of us even had to dig out our ice shovels and snow scrapers on Monday morning.
And this means it’s critical to brush up on safe winter driving habits, as the Michigan State Police reported over 220,000 winter-related crashes in the state between 2015 and 2019, with over 3,100 that involved serious and fatal injuries.
“Between 2015-2019, there were 402 fatalities and 2,699 serious injuries on icy, snowy, or slushy roads in Michigan,” information from the MSP’s Drive Slow on Ice and Snow campaign states. “And while it’s easy to blame the weather, every driver can take responsibility for winter driving safety by following a few simple tips.”
Officials emphasized that most “winter driving crashes are caused by drivers going too fast for the roadway conditions,” which means many of these crashes, injuries and fatalities were preventable.
The Michigan State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning, which organized the campaign, is spreading the word about the following actions that can make winter driving safer:
≤ Slow down and allow more room between your vehicle and the one ahead of you. This gives you more time to react and brake, reducing your crash risk, as it can take up to 10 times longer to stop your vehicle on snowy and/or icy roads.
≤ Put your turn signal on sooner than you would in warm weather months, as it also takes longer for the cars behind you to react and stop.
≤ Avoid distractions now more than ever, as taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds robs you of precious reaction time. Put your phone away and don’t try to multitask.
≤ Watch for black ice. Black ice, a very thin and nearly invisible layer of ice that makes the road look wet, is another reason to slow down this winter. Stay alert for black ice on bridges, ramps and overpasses, after sudden drops in temperature and in shaded areas.
≤ Avoid a ticket. Michigan laws require drivers to move at a speed that is “reasonable and proper” for the road conditions. Even if you are driving at or below the speed limit, you could get a speeding ticket if the road conditions make that speed unreasonable for safe driving.
We hope Yoopers and all who venture out on to the roads in wintry weather will heed this advice, as taking it slow on snow and ice can save lives. For more winter driving safety tips, visit https://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,4643,7-123-72297_64773_22760-539923–,00.html.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. Nov. 29, 2020
Michiganders shouldn’t tolerate Nestle fleecing of our resources
It doesn’t take an investment banker to see the flagrant weakness in Michigan law that allows bottled water companies to line their pockets while tapping our most valuable natural resources.
That weakness is highlighted in a recent decision by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to dismiss a challenge to a 2018 water withdrawal permit issued to Nestle.
The recent decision effectively allows the company to move forward with a 60 percent increase in pumping from a well it owns in Osceola County - allowing the company to suck 576,000 gallons per day from aquifers near Evart.
The judgment made by state officials declares the company played by the rules, and obtained a lawful permit. For a moment, we will set aside legitimate questions of environmental impacts that likely will be hashed out in court in coming years.
Let’s focus on the numbers involved here.
Nestle, because of a flimsy state permitting process, is allowed to pump 576,000 gallons of water from Michigan aquifers each day, and the only direct benefit to Michiganders is a $200 permit fee. Keep in mind the residents of Michigan own that water. That means, if the company pumps at maximum capacity, it could fill about 4.6 million of its 16.9 ounce plastic bottles each day. At the retail price per case for those crunchy plastic bottles that’s about $600,000 per day. Or more than $200 million per year.
All for a $200 permit fee?
It’s embarrassing not only because we’re getting fleeced, but because of what it says about the actual value we place on our most precious natural resource.
The company, and some others, may argue that a half million gallons pumped from the ground each day pales in comparison to many municipal water operations. And they would be right - for example, Traverse City’s water system sucks between 3 million and 14 million gallons of water each day from East Grand Traverse Bay.
But there’s a massive difference between a municipal water system and a plant that tops off plastic bottles bound for store shelves.
Generally, we view municipal water supplies as a public service that provides a basic resource - running water - that enables healthy, modern living.
Nestle on the other hand is pumping, bottling and exporting a natural resource we own collectively, and providing a fraction of what most people pay in annual municipal water bills in return.
Some would tout the 250-plus jobs generated by the bottling operation as the real economic benefit to our state. But considering Michigan boasts more than 4 million jobs, Nestle’s water plant isn’t exactly returning a noticeable impact to our state’s economy.
That’s why we hope our lawmakers, as they reconvene for a lame-duck legislative session in a few weeks, will take a few minutes to implement a meaningful system of taxation and regulation for commercial water extraction operations.
Some real, thoughtful lawmaking during a time when it seems nearly any recycling bin fodder passes as law, would be a nice change of pace.
In a state where we can’t seem to adequately fund our schools or “fix the damn roads” it seems absurd to allow such a giveaway.
We shouldn’t expect anyone else to respect and value our natural resources as long as our own laws pass them off as worthless.
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