Cantwell pushes small-business lending program

By:  Michelle Dupler
Source: Tri-City Herald

Sen. Maria Cantwell said she's been frustrated watching corporations such as Goldman Sachs get federal payouts while no money is finding its way to the small businesses that are the economy's cornerstone.

"In 2008, our economy came close to falling off a cliff, and recovery has been painful and slow in coming," Cantwell said Wednesday at a news conference in Kennewick. "The majority of new jobs are created by small businesses. If they are still struggling to get access to capital, we won't recover."

Cantwell, who voted against the $700 billion financial industry bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, hopes the Senate will pass a bill creating a $30 billion small-business lending program before Congress takes its August recess. That will allow small businesses to get the loans they need to grow and hire workers, she said.

"I think this program is long overdue," she said.

Cantwell said the flow of capital to small businesses is crucial to job growth as the economy recovers from a lengthy recession.

"Washington state's innovative small businesses are seeing opportunities for profit," she said. "But since the financial crisis began, lending capital has been in dangerously short supply."

She said commercial and industrial lending has dropped by $315 billion since the recession began.

"That's one of the main reasons recovery has been so slow," Cantwell said. "Creating a small-business lending fund will offset almost all that decline in lending."

The program would loan money to community banks with less than  $10 billion in assets that meet criteria to be developed by regulators and Congress. It would give them a preferential repayment rate if the banks in turn lend money to small businesses.

The estimated cost to run the program over the next five years is  $3.3 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank,  D-Mass, passed the House of Representatives 241-182 on June 17. Washington Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted against it.

The bill now is under consideration in the Senate, which returns to work Monday.

Kennewick Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Brown, an attorney and partner in a real estate development firm, said although the Tri-Cities has been relatively isolated from the nationwide economic downturn, the new lending program would help jump-start sluggish commercial development.

"In order to have a vibrant community, it is essential to have development," Brown said. "Without access to capital, there is no development and therefore no growth. Small businesses are what keep this country moving forward."

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