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William Blount High School’s valedictorian for the Class of 2020, Jordan Godfrey, gives her address during the commencement ceremony Saturday morning at Mike White Field.

William Blount high school holds Graduation

William Blount High School graduates receive their diplomas in the commencement ceremony held Saturday morning on the school’s football field.

Smiling faces filled the stadium Saturday morning following the Commencement ceremony for the William Blount High School Class of 2020.

Nuchols siblings get together for family breakfast reunion

Seven siblings, all senior citizens, sat down for a family reunion breakfast at T.C.’s Grill in Maryville on Saturday morning.

The Nuchols siblings are realistic, and said they realized with their advanced ages that the get-together could be the last time they see each other before they all connect again at one of their own funerals.

“We just wanted to get together one last time,” Bob Nuchols said. “We don’t know how much longer we will have together.”

The seven siblings were born to Andy and Margaret Nuchols. The Nuchols children are Ed, 91; Jack, 89; Bill, 87; Helen Goins, 85; Bob, 83; Shirley Long, 76; and David, 72.

Their father founded one of Blount County’s first moving companies, Nuchols Transfer & Storage, in 1937. The family patriarch transferred ownership to two of his sons, and they ran it until about two years ago when they closed the business and sold all the equipment.

While some children grow up working on a farm, David Nuchols grew up working on a moving truck.

“I started working on the truck as soon as I could hold a small box,” David Nuchols said. “It took 12 years before I realized there was such a thing as a paying job.”

As the siblings recalled stories such as what it was like to work for their father’s company, there was not a silent moment at their breakfast table Saturday morning.

David Nuchols explained his family is quite exuberant.

“With a bunch like this we’re usually talkative,” he said. “There’s not a bashful person in the bunch.”

David Nuchols joked a common topic of discussion for his family is medications they are taking.

“If the drug store is closed, I can just go over to one of their houses,” he said.

As breakfast was getting delivered to their table, Shirley (Nuchols) Long said she’s been cooped up for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since all of the siblings’ are senior citizens, they said they all have taken strong precautions to prevent contracting the coronavirus.

Long was thrilled to finally get out of the house, and she also was excited to see her sister and brothers.

“So this is a double blessing,” she said.

William Blount High School graduates take the field for their commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

William Blount High School’s Class of 2020 celebrates at the end of their commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

Negotiators report progress in coronavirus relief talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers reported progress on a huge coronavirus relief bill Saturday, as political pressure mounts to restore an expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit and send funding to help schools reopen.

“This was the longest meeting we've had and it was more productive than the other meetings,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who was part of the rare weekend session. “We're not close yet, but it was a productive discussion — now each side knows where they’re at."

Schumer spoke alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after meeting for three hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The Democratic leaders are eager for an expansive agreement, as are President Donald Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But perhaps one half of Senate Republicans, mostly conservatives and those not facing difficult races this fall, are likely to oppose any deal.

Prior talks had yielded little progress and Saturday's cautious optimism was a break from gloomy private assessments among GOP negotiators. The administration is willing to extend the newly expired $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term, but is balking at other Democratic demands like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.

Pelosi mentioned food aid and funding for voting by mail after the negotiating session was over. She and Schumer appeared more upbeat than they have after earlier meetings.

“We have to get rid of this virus so that we can open our economy, safely open our schools, and to do so in a way that does not give a cut in benefits to American workers," Pelosi said.

Mnuchin said restoring the $600 supplemental jobless benefit is critically important to Trump.

“We’re still a long ways apart and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not," Meadows said afterward. “There are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress."

The additional jobless benefit officially lapsed on Friday, and Democrats have made clear that they will not extend it without securing other relief priorities. Whatever unemployment aid negotiators agree on will be made retroactive — but antiquated state systems are likely to take weeks to restore the benefits.

Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 benefit, saying it must be slashed so that people don't make more in unemployment than they would if they returned to work. But their resolve weakened as the benefit expired, and Trump abruptly undercut their position by signaling he wants to keep the full $600 for now.

On Friday, Trump used Twitter to explicitly endorse extending the $600 payment and to criticize Schumer.

Washington's top power players agree that Congress must pass further relief in the coming days and weeks. At stake beyond the $600 per week jobless benefit is a fresh $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in other aid to states, businesses and the poor, among other elements.

Democrats hold a strong negotiating hand — exploiting GOP divisions — and they are expected to deliver a necessary trove of votes.

The COVID package will be the fifth legislative response to the pandemic and could well be the last one before the November election. The only other must-pass legislation on the agenda is a stopgap spending measure that should advance in September.

Since May, Republicans controlling the Senate had kept the relief negotiations on “pause” in a strategy aimed at reducing its price tag. But as the pandemic surged back over the summer — and as fractures inside the GOP have eroded the party's negotiating position — Republicans displayed some greater flexibility.

Even with signs of progress in the talks, the list of items to negotiate remains daunting.

McConnell's must-have item is a liability shield from lawsuits for businesses, schools, and charities that reopen as the pandemic goes on. The GOP's business allies are strong backers but the nation's trial lawyers retain considerable clout in opposition. A compromise is probably a challenging but necessary part of a final deal.

Among the priorities for Democrats is a boost in food stamp benefits. Republicans added $20 billion for agribusinesses but no increase for food stamp benefits in their $1 trillion proposal. Meadows played a role in killing an increase in food aid during talks on the $2 trillion relief bill in March, but Pelosi appears determined. The food stamp increases, many economists say, provide an immediate injection of demand into the economy in addition to combating growing poverty.

“Traditionally we’ve had a partnership between farms and families, and they’ve consistently broken that,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.