In spite of some intermittent snow Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson spent some time at the Shoprite in his hometown of East Hartford to chat with constituents about a variety of concerns at a “Congress On Your Corner” event.
The event was well attended and, while jobs continue to be the biggest concern of his constituents, Larson said the discussions ran the gamut of other topics. Several people came to him with veterans’ questions, concerns about social security, healthcare and mortgage issues, he said.
Larson said in the aftermath of U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords’ shooting at another “Congress On Your Corner” event last month in Arizona, which left six dead and dozens injured, it was important to let constituents know their congressional representatives were still available.
“You know, there’s a lot of demand for it,” he said. “We think it’s a way to make yourself more accessible and even though a variety of questions that come up will have overlap, they’ll be state issues and local municipal issues, the fact is people are seeking answers and they want to see that their elected representatives are more accessible.”
And Larson said he enjoys the process. You find out what’s going on with people and get good suggestions from them, he said. It also helps that when people have questions, his staff is on hand to take down their information to follow up with them, he said.
The congressman arrived a little after 10 a.m. and at 10:30 a.m. there was already a line of people waiting to speak with him.
Post Office employee Laurinda Tuthill of Manchester came out to talk to Larson about her concerns about the future of the agency and about the high cost of home heating oil.
Marcey and David McHugh came out to talk to him about problems with their insurance provider. The couple said they invested in a long-term care policy with MetLife about 12 years ago, which they purchased through David McHugh’s then-employer United Technologies. They bought into the program before they were 50 years old and were told their low rate would be locked in forever, they said.
But David has since retired and they received a letter last week informing them that the company would be petitioning the necessary regulating agencies to increase their rates.
And despite a new law allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26, since David is retired and on a self-paid plan their daughter, a grad student at Boston University, was denied coverage on their plan. Marcey said she feels they have been discriminated against as retirees. They came out Saturday morning, hoping Larson could help them out in some way.
“We voted for John. We’ve always voted for him and he’s always plugged for UTC,” David said as he was waiting in line. “But this affects a lot of people and nothing gets done if no one speaks up.”
They sat down with Larson for about ten minutes and seemed happy with his response. He told them that, while it’s not really his jurisdiction, he would contact the attorney general and insurance commissioner on their behalf. A letter from the congressman couldn’t hurt, they said. They’re expecting to hear from a member of his staff on Tuesday.
Nearby Lt. Curt Stoldt of the East Hartford police department stood in plain clothes calmly watching the event. Stoldt said the violence in Arizona hadn’t really changed the way his department was handling Larson’s visit. Aside from a cruiser with uniformed officer parked outside, Stoldt was the only visible security presence.
“We’re definitely aware of it but I wouldn’t say we’re doing anything extra,” he said. “We’re just doing our due diligence.”
He noted that many of the folks who came out seemed to have come with good-natured questions. Many even seemed to know Larson personally and left looking happy.
Raman Makol of South Windsor waited in line with his son just so he could personally thank Larson. When Makol’s nephew wanted to come to the U.S. from India to study medicine, he was denied a visa. But Makol contacted Larson, who had been able to help. His nephew is now proceeding with his education, he said.
But not everyone in line came out that morning expecting to talk with their congressman. Sam Padilla, a 17-year-old Shoprite employee, happened to be passing by when he noticed Larson and the people gathered to speak with him.
“Hey, who is that guy?” he asked.
When told about the nature of the event, Padilla seemed interested. He was full of questions—How does it work? Does he ask us questions or we can ask him? Can we ask about anything?
When he had it down, Padilla got in line and asked Larson about educational opportunities for young people. The two talked about low-cost student loans, training programs and youth developmental groups like Our Piece Of The Pie.