U.S. Rep. McGovern talks national issues, local effects at South County Senior Center

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday.

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday.

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with constituents at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday.

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with constituents at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday.

Congressman Jim McGovern talks with those gathered at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-06-2024 11:02 PM

Modified: 04-07-2024 10:56 AM


SOUTH DEERFIELD — In a visit to the South County Senior Center, much of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s discussion with residents focused on national issues, such as immigration and the war in Gaza. Still, the longtime Worcester Democrat emphasized these policies have effects that seep down to the local level.

Most of all, McGovern urged people in Franklin County, in Washington D.C. and around the country to return to a more civil time, where people on both sides of the aisle were able to have polite discussions and reach compromises on contentious issues.

“Remember this: we don’t have to agree on everything, but we can agree on something,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be ‘my way or the highway’ all the time. If I can get 40% of what I want, that’s better than zero. … We need to restore some sanity in our politics.”

Although the conversation steered toward national discussions, Deerfield resident Nikki Stoia lauded McGovern and both his state and federal peers for their work in fighting to keep the Veterans Affairs hospital in Leeds open after the federal government put forward a proposal to close it.

“We will never forget all the work that you and your staff did to keep the VA in Leeds,” Stoia said, as those in the room clapped. “Those services are so important to so many people.”

In a similar vein, McGovern said efforts like advocating for the VA hospital and the passage of the PACT Act, which expands health care benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, have concrete effects on the people of western Massachusetts and around the country.

“We can pass things and do things that have a positive impact on people,” McGovern said, highlighting that the 34 Republicans who voted for the PACT Act showed what bipartisan cooperation can achieve. “Whether you’re a liberal or conservative or Republican or Democrat, if we all mean what we say when we say we want to be there for our veterans, then let’s come together and get this stuff done.”

In remarks on foods, farming and nutrition — which are three of his top priorities, especially as a driving force on the federal farm bill and as a representative of a rural region — McGovern said the federal government needs to “start tearing down the silos” that separate these issues and instead tackle them together.

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“Nutrition and food is key. I tell everybody, food is love, food brings us together,” he said. “We need to think differently about a whole bunch of stuff, but food and nutrition, especially in the area of health care, has to be more of a priority.”

South County Senior Center Director Jennifer Remillard thanked McGovern for his work and for representing “us in such a phenomenal way every year.” She noted food insecurity is one of the biggest issues in the region, especially among seniors, and McGovern has been a champion for healthy, affordable food.

In response to a question about the Israel-Hamas war, McGovern emphasized Israel has a right to defend itself, but said the country has gone far beyond its stated mission to root out the terrorist group.

He called for four things to happen: a cease-fire, the release of hostages, “aid to the Palestinians on-scale” and a two-state solution.

“You can be outraged by what happened on Oct. 7, but also be outraged by the response. Anybody who’s under attack has the right to respond, but what is happening here is not responding to Hamas; it is an all-out assault against Gaza,” McGovern said. “And then on top of all of that, basically making it difficult to get food, water and medicine to the people of Gaza is, again, unacceptable.”

Finally, in response to a question from resident Pat Ciesla about immigration and potential changes to the system, McGovern said the country’s laws need to be updated and a larger workforce is needed to process asylum requests and other immigration-related matters.

“If you want to come here the way your parents did, we’ll see you in about a decade,” McGovern said of the legal immigration process, adding that the more staff members are processing immigration requests, the quicker folks can work legally. “Why can’t we accelerate their work authorization so that they are earning a paycheck and taxpayers are not underwriting the cost of them staying here?”

Additionally, he noted some of the United States’ policies and sanctions on Latin American countries, like Cuba and Venezuela, may be contributing to the number of people coming to the U.S. and those, too, could be re-evaluated.

“We need better enforcement of the border,” he said, “we need a more rapid workforce to adjudicate these claims and we also need to think about our own foreign policies.”