A calm voice of reason

Thumbs Up: Here’s something we need more of these days: A calm voice of reason. And believe it or not, there are some people who still have that these days, despite all the political badmouthing, misinformation and polarization out there. A perfect example of it came shining through on our Facebook page last week. Gov. Tim Walz visited a dairy farm near Millerville on July 29 to talk about the drought and the tough times farmers are going through. Within minutes, Facebook comments ripped the governor and his visit. One said he wouldn’t let the governor set foot on his property. And then came this voice of reason from a reader named Taylor Quinn: “I grew up in the Alex area and care deeply about what goes on up there. I follow the Echo Press to see the news in Douglas County. I want to stay informed about what you all are experiencing. Although I live in the Twin Cities and can claim that I'm a ‘city-iot,’ I still care about what's happening in rural areas. My family's livelihood is up there. So when I see all the comments about Gov. Walz I often ask myself why do these people hate him so much. Isn't it good that he's coming up to talk with farmers up there?” Thank you, Taylor!

Out-of-reach housing

Thumbs Down: Affordable housing continues to be a nagging problem, not just here in Douglas County but statewide as well. Last week, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released its “Out of Reach” 2021 report that highlights state and county trends and it shows that households in every corner of Minnesota are spending thousands of dollars more than they can afford each year just to pay the rent for a modest apartment. The Minnesota Housing Partnership summed up the problem: “Now more than ever, as evidenced by the rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing security is central to overall health and well-being.” Some highlights from the report: The Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Minnesota is $1,133. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities – without paying more than 30% of income on housing – a household must earn $3,775 monthly or $45,301 annually. From 2020 to 2021, the amount a renter household needs to earn to afford a modest apartment (the state "housing wage") increased by 6%. The lowest income households – those earning 30% or less of area median income – can afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in only 17 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Minnesota ranks 23rd in the nation for the highest wages required to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. “When rent is out of reach for those who are fully employed, our communities pay the price,” noted Minnesota Housing Partnership leaders. “We cannot afford to let housing costs continue to climb, while wages remain stagnant. Currently, nearly 30 percent of Minnesota residents – more than 620,700 households – live in a rental unit.”

Energy upgrades for nonprofits

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Thumbs Up: Here’s some good news for nonprofits. Bipartisan legislation is moving through the U.S. Senate to help nonprofits save money on energy efficiency upgrades. The Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act would create a grant program that will help nonprofits, including places of worship, faith-based organizations, and youth centers, afford the materials needed to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. “As nonprofits become more energy efficient, they can allocate more resources to their core missions,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. “This bipartisan legislation is a win-win – it’s beneficial for the environment, nonprofits, and the communities they serve.” The legislation would provide $50 million each year for the next five years to create a pilot grant program at the U.S. Department of Energy to support nonprofits in purchasing materials for energy efficiency projects. The grants would promote energy efficiency by supporting the purchase of materials for upgrades to existing infrastructure. Nonprofits could apply for grants up to $200,000.

Helping Hands leaves lasting impact

Thumbs Up: Helping Hands of Alexandria deserves a big thumbs up for all the time, effort and energy the organizers and its army of volunteers gave to help the community through the pandemic. On July 31, founders Kelsi Malone and Nattiel Dammer announced on Helping Hands Facebook page that after several months of praying about the organization’s future they had arrived “at a place of peace” and would be closing down Helping Hands. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of the support over the past 17 months,” they posted. “We live in such an incredible community! Please continue to be helping hands wherever God has you planted. We are praying that God will continue to show you who needs encouragement or an extra hand.”

If you have a suggestion for a Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, email it to aedenloff@echopress.com or mail it to Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.