Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 18, 2021.

Editorial: Our Great Lakes deserve a group effort to protect them

Taken separately, the threats to the health of the Great Lakes are enough to raise alarm.

Together they are a crisis, the root of which we must recognize and take seriously.

Mercury, PCBs, PFAS, fertilizer, pesticides, microplastics, water withdrawal, toxic algae, botulism, invasive species, sewage leaks — they all damage the Great Lakes every day.

And they all sprout from the same root cause: us.

Every major threat to the health of the Great Lakes finds its origin in our activities. Our carelessness.

Individually, each of those problems is a serious challenge, and many are being addressed in a somewhat disconnected array of efforts. And it seems with each passing month, there is a new catastrophe brewing.

The latest: PFAS found in fish in the Upper Peninsula. But that one unsettling discovery can’t be taken as an isolated occurrence. Nor can we afford to continue to treat each injury we cause to the Great Lakes as a single wound.

Our lakes, with our help, may be able to sustain a swipe or two from human negligence. But together the problems we have created present a crisis that will take all our effort to address.

Further, they are issues that affect the lifeblood of our region must be treated together if we hope to preserve the overall health of the lakes we love.

We’re not saying the efforts so far haven’t been effective, either. Take Lake Erie for example — an extraordinary success story after decades of efforts to cleanse the lake of egregious pollution problems caused by negligent industrial activities. It was a commendable accomplishment, but didn’t ensure the lake’s future health.

Even in the midst of that success, that lake, and the people who depend upon it for fresh, clean water, face a growing disaster caused by toxic algae blooms.

Each of our lakes faces a problem or two of similar magnitude and intensity. They also each have garnered a massive program or two to combat those issues. Yet, those programs, and our perception of the problems they address, seem to sidestep the interconnectedness of the lakes and the issues we cause.

That’s where we think our collective perception of our lakes and our interactions with them needs to change.

A pile of plastic trash left on a beach in Empire will create microplastics that resurface in Lake Huron. Carp that sneak into Lake Michigan in Chicago will reach Lake Superior in no time. Leaking sewer lines and deteriorating septic systems will trigger algae blooms everywhere. And invasive species plunked into Lake Ontario will spread like wildfire.

The worst part: many of the problems we’re talking about are ongoing issues, not damage caused decades ago from which we are working to recover.

Plastic pollution is added to shorelines every day. Chemicals leech into the water from products we use. Deteriorating infrastructure leaks into the lakes constantly.

That’s why meaningful protections really aren’t possible until we all begin to embrace the fact that an injury to one of our lakes affects them all. And all injuries we inflict build upon one another toward critical damage.

That’s why we hope everyone, policymakers included, begin to recognize we can’t treat the wounds we cause to the Great Lakes individually, nor should one fix wait for another’s completion.

Together we created these threats to our lakes, and only together can we fix them.

___

Detroit News. July 17, 2021.

Editorial: Incompetence reigns at unemployment agency

The state’s response to COVID-19 has lifted the veil of incompetence on numerous government offices, but none so much as the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

The jobless claims spike following the pandemic overwhelmed the office. It never caught up with demand and Michigan residents suffered, including those who were put out of work by shutdown orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The latest show of mismanagement is truly indefensible.

Nearly 650,000 individuals who filed for unemployment benefits are now being told by the state that they may have to repay that money. And it’s not because they did anything wrong.

This is the UIA’s screw-up, and the onus is on it to fix it.

The federal government had offered pandemic unemployment assistance to a broader population of workers than would typically qualify for benefits, including part-time, self-employed and gig workers.

The criteria the state used to determine whether these individuals qualified for the help didn’t mesh with federal guidelines.

The UIA gave applicants for this pandemic unemployment assistance four reasons to choose from, but now the agency has sent out letters to these recipients saying the state must reevaluate eligibility for the suddenly “non-qualifying” reasons.

Notified individuals only have a few weeks to reply. For those who no longer meet the revamped criteria, the state is not offering any solutions, other than they will have to repay the money.

It’s unclear why it took agency officials this long to figure out its qualifications didn’t align with the federal standards.

But it’s very clear this is not the way to handle the situation.

The planned approach is unfair and amounts to retroactively changing the law.

This is a complete waste of time for the agency, which has already struggled to fulfill the most basic duties, including ensuring unemployed workers received their checks and communicating in a timely manner. Even getting offices open for minimal in-person appointments has proven a monumental task.

Rather than go after claimants who did nothing wrong, the agency should focus its attention on rooting out actual fraudulent claims. The state doesn’t have a firm number on the fraud, but one audit estimated the amount stolen is in the hundreds of millions.

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, chairs the House Oversight Committee, and has sought to hold the agency accountable. He announced Wednesday he would launch an investigation.

“If the state made the mistake, the people shouldn’t have to pay for it,” Johnson said. “The state should have to pay for it.”

And it appears the state has leeway to determine whether to waive repayment in these cases.

According to Rachael Kohl, director of the workers rights legal clinic at Michigan United, federal guidance suggests waivers ought to be granted if claimants were paid in error through no fault of their own.

With billions of federal COVID relief dollars flowing into the state, some of that funding should be diverted to fixing the problem.

The thousands of people who truthfully filed for assistance and checked boxes the state gave them shouldn’t have to pay back anything.