This morning at a press conference, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that the economy may be starting to recover, but unemployment remains unacceptably high across Washington state including in Clark County, and more needs to be done to strengthen the economy. To address the need for urgent action, Cantwell, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), sent a letter yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to take up small business lending legislation as soon as the Senate reconvenes next week. The state of the fragile economy, Cantwell said, underscores the urgent need for strong financial regulatory reform and an infusion of small business lending capital to spur growth and job creation. Joining Cantwell at this morning's press conference were small business owners, employees, community bankers, workforce development representatives, and an individual who has successfully utilized worker training programs to reenter the workforce.
"Among the most difficult challenges facing small businesses in Washington and throughout the nation is access to credit," Senators Cantwell and Murray wrote in the letter to Reid. "While there are many pressing issues competing for the Senate's attention, none are more critical than legislation that can help put Americans back to work. President Obama's aim, and ours, is to ensure that creditworthy small businesses have access to the capital they need to grow and create jobs in our communities. Expanding Main Street's access to credit is the most effective thing we can do to promote our ongoing economic recovery."
For the third straight month, the state gained jobs. For the first time in 26 months, the construction industry gained rather than lost jobs. However, unemployment across the state remains unacceptably high. Pend Oreille, Clark and Ferry counties, for example, still have double-digit unemployment -- the highest rates in the state -- though they are starting to show signs of slight improvement.
"We are seeing tentative signs of improvement in our economy, including a slight employment uptick in the manufacturing sector in Clark County, but much more needs to be done to strengthen and build on this so-called recovery," Senator Cantwell said. "We have seen in the "flash crash' on Wall Street, and in the Greek debt crisis that events can thwart the hard work that small businesses and community banks are doing all across this country to put people back to work. We must build on the momentum we are seeing and get job-producing capital out to Main Street."
"Healthy community banks play a critical role in creating jobs and growing small businesses in their neighborhoods," Senator Murray said in a statement. "We need to move quickly to expand their capacity to lend again, improve investor confidence, and help local businesses get the loans they need to expand and create jobs. When big banks needed assistance, they got it--even though they were the ones who got us into this mess. But more than a year and a half later our community banks are still left waiting for the support they need to help our small businesses."
Cantwell supports President Obama's proposal to use $30 billion of repaid Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to help community banks lend to small businesses. She has urged the administration and Congress to act with the same urgency afforded to the big banks. Cantwell will propose that the lending terms be altered to enable more community banks to take advantage of the program. As part of a range of efforts on the economy, Cantwell will be working with the House-Senate conference committee to strengthen the recently-passed financial regulatory reform before it goes to the President's desk.