Recent Op-Eds

Professor John Thune: U.S. Government 101

By Sen. John Thune

April 3, 2020

Hey, parents. I know these are crazy times we’re living in, and many of you have now unexpectedly added “teacher” to your long list of titles, which also likely includes “coach,” “cook,” and “hall monitor.” Hopefully there haven’t been too many visits to the principal’s office. While I don’t have a solution to everything you’re facing right now, I’ve got something that I hope will at least help. More on that in a minute, though.  

Throughout this coronavirus outbreak, Congress has been focused on providing support and relief to the American people. We’ve already passed, and the president has signed, three relief packages that are already helping families, workers, small businesses, and the country’s health care community.

We’ve prioritized things like ensuring anyone who needs to get tested for the coronavirus can do so at no cost to themselves. We’re making sure that no-strings-attached emergency cash payments make it into Americans’ hands as soon as possible and that small businesses have the support they need to keep their operations open and employees on payroll. Importantly, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are getting additional and much-needed resources to both treat patients and help protect themselves on the front lines of this battle.

Everyone is feeling the effect of this ongoing pandemic, which is why we tried to make it a little easier for graduates to manage their student loan debt. I’m glad a bill I helped write was included in the last relief package the president signed. It will give employers the option to help graduates pay down student loan debt by up to $5,250 per employee each year tax-free. The new law will also allow graduates to defer payments and interest for six months – penalty-free – on qualified federal student loans. And for those Americans who are out of work as a result of this crisis, we’re strengthening states’ unemployment benefit programs for those who need them the most.

Our recent efforts have also helped the farming and ranching community, which has faced hurdle after hurdle these last few years. At my urging, the latest bill replenished the critically important Commodity Credit Corporation and allocated nearly $10 billion in emergency funding to help producers in South Dakota and around the country. There’s so much support for this effort that I teamed up with U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson to lead a bipartisan group of senators and members of the House – a group that represents more than 25 percent of the entire Congress – to urge the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take immediate action using the resources we provided in the new law.

Everyone is still adjusting to this new lifestyle where social distancing and teleworking are now considered normal, especially parents who’ve now become at-home educators. Since many schools are closed for the foreseeable future – some for the remainder of the school year – I wanted to do my part to help those parents, students, and teachers who are adjusting to this new at-home learning environment on top of everything else they’re facing these days.

That’s why I decided to record a short video lesson about the basics of the federal government that parents can show to their at-home students or teachers can work into curriculums they might already be using for virtual learning experiences. I’m hoping it will help provide educators and students with a tiny bit of additional content that could help diversify virtual lesson plans during these unusual times.

If you’re interested in using my video lesson, you can find it on my social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter (@SenJohnThune), or by visiting If you find it helpful and would be interested in additional lessons, please leave a comment and let me know. By visiting the same website, you can find additional coronavirus-related updates from me and my staff, plus a ton of helpful links and resources that will help South Dakotans better navigate this crisis. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, call, email, or write, and we’ll get it to you as soon as possible.

We’re learning more and more each day about what bonds us as Americans because we’re all experiencing and coping with this crisis together. We’re also learning about new ways to contribute to our communities and stay connected with friends and family even when we’re afar. In these uncertain times, I urge you to embody the examples of kindness we’re seeing in South Dakota and around the country and continue to share stories of hope, support, and generosity when you see them.

Click here to watch the video.