- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2020

Madison Daily Leader, July 8

Unemployment fund is good use of money

Gov. Kristi Noem has announced that the state is using a portion of Coronavirus Relief Fund money that came from the federal government to replenish the South Dakota Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.

The move is an excellent use of coronavirus funds. The money was allocated to each of the states to help with unexpected costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic. There is still widespread vagueness about what the funds can specifically be used for, but the main boundaries are that the expense has to be unbudgeted (unexpected) and occurred so far this year.

Gov. Noem has already indicated she will allocate some of the funds to local governments to help with their unexpected expenses. She is waiting for clarity on other uses.

The state unemployment trust fund is a well-designed program, in our opinion, especially given our long history of low unemployment. It charges a small fee to every South Dakota employer, then pays workers who lose their jobs for a fixed time based on their wage rate. Employers who have a history of laying off employees pay a higher fee.

During good times, the fund is considered full (by a formula) and employers don’t need to pay in. When the fund is reduced during recessions, employers are charged again to rebuild the balance.

Replenishing the unemployment fund fits the requirements well, and the amount is only $45.6 million from a total federal allocation of $1.2 billion. Employers won’t have to face additional fees as the economy recovers.

We’re eagerly awaiting to see how the state spends the rest of the coronavirus funds. So far, the decisions are off to a good start.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, July 9

An oasis of normality

Well, at least the official midpoint of this year from hell found me on familiar ground. That was the Fourth of July in my hometown, and for one of the very few times in 2020, most everything seemed as it should be, or at least as close as it could be.

I can’t stress enough just how good it felt, if only for a couple of days.

The Independence Day holiday saw the nights in Menno once again bursting with fireworks and joy. From the baseball field to the neighborhood streets, the explosive evidence of the season was everywhere. (I also heard the first cicadas of the summer screeching on the afternoon of the Fourth - right on time.)

And yes, it DID feel good, because at least it gave me a moment of familiarity before we headed into the second half of a dreary year that has already seemed like it’s lasted a decade.

There’s no need here to tell you why that’s so. We’ve been living it since late winter as so much of what’s normal and expected and planned in our lives has tumbled to the wayside in one manner or another. Even little things like going to a store or greeting a friend face to face have turned into nervous adventures.

People often refer to the “new normal” of these COVID-19 times, and in fact, you DO get used to wearing masks (although I’ll never get used to having to debate this practice), scrubbing your hands and staying socially distant. You also start paying particular attention to anyone who’s coughing - especially if it’s you - and wondering if, for example, it’s OK to keep that doctor’s appointment that, really, you could just as easily put off until you’re SURE the pandemic situation is better. And for kids in school, I imagine they grew used to NOT being in school, where they haven’t been physically since mid-March, but they may also be looking forward already to finally getting back into classrooms with their friends and teachers, and getting some smoother structure back into their educational endeavors.

Overall, though, this “new normal” leaves a lot to be desired.

That’s why the Fourth of July felt like an oasis of normality for me. I was back in familiar territory. Granted, I wasn’t shooting photos of the Yankton fireworks display, which didn’t happen, but the Menno display filled in just fine. Apart from that, there was family around and a chance to catch a breath or two after what has seemed like one long work shift since March.

It’s the kind of thing each of us needs in these uncertain days: something certain and familiar, a comfortable North Star to help guide us through the night, something we can recognize as old, comfortable and normal.

Of course, this mid-year oasis wasn’t completely normal; the pandemic saw to that. Menno’s annual celebration was supposed to feature an all-school reunion, but it was canceled. There are usually some familiar faces back home every Fourth, but not so much this year. There was the traditional parade that, this time, tried to promote social distancing - with so-so success - and I was wearing a mask during that event, which was sometimes hot but otherwise bearable.

Still, it was all familiar enough to make me feel slightly saner during this insane year, at least for a while.

However, now comes the second half of 2020, and that momentary normality has vanished. Yankton’s usually hectic summer schedule (which tends to slow down a bit in July anyway, a period I refer to at work as the “summer doldrums”) has nearly - but not completely - ground to a halt: no Riverboat Days, no Rock ‘N’ Rumble, no Music at the Meridian, etc., etc., etc. Now, fall events are starting to take hits - the Harvest Halloween Festival and Menno’s Octoberfest have already been scratched. And we have no idea what schools will be doing a month from now, when fall practices are supposed to begin and classrooms will be nearly ready to, in theory, open.

We face a lot of questions - and a lot of things that, because of these times, simply are not normal. And the current COVID indicators are suggesting more adventures ahead, unfortunately. (And it’s also an election year, which always delivers its own special brand of mind-numbing bedlam.)

That’s why I strongly and wearily suspect the energizing memory of this Fourth of July, in all its wonderfully recognizable normality, may have to sustain me for quite a while.

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