Rapid City Journal. May 15, 2021.

Editorial: City Council needs to consider public’s requests for surplus funds

Now that eight Rapid City department heads have made their pitch for a portion of the $20 million in surplus funds that are largely the result of the CARES Act, it’s time for the city to hear proposals from nonprofits and other local organizations.

On Monday night in a special city council meeting, department heads made requests ranging from $12.5 million by the fire department to $619,000 for bonuses for city employees. The police department, library, finance office, public works and The Monument also made requests for a piece of the pie, which is a one-time windfall due to the federal largesse that resulted from the pandemic. The requests totaled around $25 million.

The CARES Act that was approved in 2020 by Congress sent hundreds of millions of dollars to state, local and tribal governments to help them recoup revenue losses inflicted by COVID-19. But thanks to Gov. Noem’s resonating nationwide message that South Dakota was open for business, state and local governments thrived when compared to other states. In Rapid City, sales tax collections exceeded 2019 levels. In addition, city government wisely reduced department budgets by 10 percent as a precautionary measure when there was much uncertainty in the air.

So, the city now has an unexpected windfall and every nonprofit and organization in the city that suffered through the uncertainties and losses inflicted by the pandemic deserve an opportunity to make a pitch for that money. The city council should consider those requests with the same zeal as it does from one of its department heads.

That won’t happen, however, unless the city council opens that door. Those ten elected members are the gatekeepers of federal money that local residents contributed to while dealing with their own hardships imposed by the pandemic.

So far, the city has received $17.5 million from the Trump Administration’s CARES Act and according to a story in Thursday’s Journal expects to receive another $13 million from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan.

That’s $30.5 million.

So even if the city council decides to let local organizations share the entire $20 million for health care, child care, education and other essential programs that they provide for the community, the city still has $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to spend in addition to the additional sale tax revenue collected in 2020 that would not have been possible if Rapid City residents had not worked during the pandemic.

At its next meeting, the Rapid City Council should vote to treat the surplus funds like they are part of the Vision Fund and invite others to make their pitch. To do otherwise would show an indifference to the hardships everyone in this community suffered in 2020.

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Yankton Press & Dakotan. May 18. 2021.

Editorial: A Sudden Change In Mask Guidelines

As we’re all now realizing, shifting our lives from pandemic mode to something approaching a post-pandemic level is not as simple as turning a light back on in a darkened room.

A good example of this currently is the slate of changes proposed last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding mask guidelines. The CDC is now declaring that people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in indoor or outdoor settings.

That seems straightforward enough, but it has a lot of ramifications.

To say that the mask announcement came as a surprise appears to be an understatement. According to the Politico news website, the White House itself was given very little notice about the change in guidelines. There was also apparently very little warning or coordination with federal or state health officials, especially those who have been working with mask mandates and similar regulations to varying degrees.

Also, the CDC announcement has generated concerns among those who have been dutifully been masking up to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the vaccination effort has gone very well and the national infection numbers are dropping — according to reports, Monday was the first time in a long time that case numbers dropped in every state — the suggestion now that it’s OK to do away with masking in most situations seems to belie the protective mindset that’s been in place for more than a year. It’s asking us now, suddenly, to step away from a strategy that, to date, has apparently been working.

Still, changing the mask guidelines is a logical consequence of the recent gains we’ve made in battling the pandemic.

Nevertheless, these changes may not be so easy for many people to embrace.

The CDC’s sudden decision seems to reflect a reorganization of its pandemic response. According to Politico, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky appears to be streamlining the decision-making processes within the organization while also establishing the CDC’s independence from the White House. That’s fine, but more advanced warning would probably go down better not only at the White House but also on Capitol Hill and across the country.

Meanwhile, critics of the CDC’s decision have pointed out that while conditions are improving, the pandemic is still not fully under control, and the arrival of new variants could present more issues. The concern is valid, for people are still getting infected and people are still dying: South Dakota is gradually approaching 2,000 deaths related to COVID. This remains a threat that hasn’t been controlled.

Also, while vaccinations are generally going well, but there are still many millions of people who have yet to be vaccinated for various reasons. (The new mask guideline also relies on an honor system in which everyone who says they are vaccinated actually are.) Bear in mind, too, that the vaccine is not a 100% guarantee against infection, and there are still people who are high risk.

One irony here is that we all want life to return somewhat to normal, and the wearing of masks has generally been considered one of the simplest tools at our disposal to achieve that end.

Hopefully, the CDC’s decision is not premature. While we all want to get back to normal, we also want to prevail over COVID. Masking up has been a handy tool, and it likely won’t disappear too soon.

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