Obama Plans to Boost Aid to Small Business, Community Banks
Obama Plans to Boost Aid to Small Business, Community Banks
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President Obama wants to make more money available to small businesses by allocating some of the billions the government set aside to rescue giant financial institutions and making them available to smaller community banks.  The president is asking Congress to increase the maximum size of small business loans and provide low interest capital to smaller banks in a bid to get credit flowing again to small businesses. 

For some workers, construction and development is the sound of money. Sometimes it's the sound of a cash register, or the opening bell on Wall Street.

For small business owners, it's about establishing good relations with the neighborhood bank.

Although the battered US economy is beginning to show signs of improvement, people are still losing their homes, unemployment is still rising, and many banks are still reluctant to lend.
President Obama says when credit is tight, small businesses suffer. "Our small businesses have been some of the hardest hit by this recession," he says, "From the middle of 2007 through the end of 2008, small businesses lost 2.4 million jobs."

The president wants to increase the cap on small business loans.  And he's asking Congress to make billions of dollars -- previously allocated only to the big financial institutions -- available to community banks - typically banks with less than a billion dollars in assets.

"If these institutions put forth a plan to increase lending to small businesses, we will help them get the capital they need to do it at rates that are more affordable than the ones offered to our largest financial institutions," Mr. Obama said.

"Community banks are really going to be the drivers of the turnaround in this economy and whatever support we can get from the government will be very helpful," Dorothy Bridges said. Bridges is chief executive at City First Bank of D.C. She says it's a challenging time for banks and the businesses they serve.  She believes the president's proposal will help level the playing field and allow smaller banks to reach more people.

"We know the people in the community, we know the businesses, the main street kinds of mom and pops, independents that make up the beautiful fabric of our community," she adds.

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And they also seem to have a pretty good sense of what people like to eat.

Small businesses like Pete's A Pizza in Washington DC create the bulk of new jobs in the United States -- about 65 percent.  And when they need credit, more often than not they turn to community banks for help.

"When the three owners had little more than a dream of opening up a casual pizza restaurant, they found it challenging to get financing.  But ultimately they," Mr. Obama explains.

But it's not only small businesses that benefit from community banks.  Sylvia Robinson is executive director of the  non-profit Emergence Community Arts Collective.

"This is a place where people can come and learn social interaction, learn cultural arts, be educated by workshops and learn how to garden," Robinson said.

Sylvia's dream of turning this century-old building into a community center almost didn't happen.  After she was rejected several times by larger banks, City First agreed to finance the purchase of the historic building for $850,000.

"Without the loan, we would not have been able to keep this up.  We were in pretty dire straits trying to keep the building," she adds. 

Robinson believes small banks can play an important role in helping communities rebound.  But critics say it will take more than a village to put the nation's financial house in order.