Top priority: Take care of 'Main Street' | Guest column | March 12

Earlier this year, news that Wall Street banks had posted record profits and were quickly returning to a “bonus-as-usual” mentality left families across our state astonished and angry.

Every day families watch friends and neighbors lose jobs, mom and pop stores close, and local community banks teeter on failure.

For these families, it’s clear that while stability has come to Wall Street, they are still waiting. Families across our state should be angry about this. I’m angry, too.

And for me it’s personal.

That’s because growing up, my dad ran a Five and Ten Cent store on Main Street in Bothell and I learned first-hand how small businesses are the true driver behind job growth and economic activity. I know that real recovery won’t come without real help for the small business on Main Street. And I know that we have to act now.

Last month, I sat down with a group of small business owners in our state to talk about what they see as their No. 1 obstacle to hiring and growing again: access to credit.

They told me how, unable to get loans from local banks, they’ve been forced to turn to payday lenders, run up huge business debts on their personal credit cards or had to borrow from family members just to pay their employees.

At a time when we are relying on these same small businesses to create jobs and boost our recovery, this is simply unacceptable.

Unfortunately, these small business owners can’t access credit because many of our community banks just aren’t lending.

Our small, local banks have been hit hard by losses brought on by the economic recession, which has forced them to hold capital instead of putting it to work through lending. In some cases, the losses local banks face are causing them to fail.

To address this problem, which is critical to economic recovery on Main Street, I’ve introduced legislation to strengthen community banks.

My bill, the Main Street Loan Restoration Act, redirects $30 billion of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding from Wall Street banks to our hometown banks.

The funding will be matched by private dollars and used to remove impaired loans – the root of the problem – from the balance sheets of participating banks.

I made clear to President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that we must address this problem if we are serious about local recovery.

I told Secretary Geithner directly about the hardship that seven community bank failures across our state have caused for businesses and families, and he pledged to work with me on my bill.

I also recently cosponsored legislation to tax bonuses for Wall Street CEOs and use every dollar of the revenue to pay down our debt.

Small businesses remain the engine that drives job creation and that’s why we must take action now. We must do everything we can to ensure small businesses have access to the credit they need to hire workers and drive our economic recovery long term.

Sen. Patty Murray’s committee assignments include Appropriations and Budgets.

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