What we are trying to do is to work systematically with the banks and Tim Geithner [at] Treasury, Karen Mills at SBA, and our economic team here in the White House to bring together the financial sector with some of the creditworthy small businesses.
Major corporations have received billions in government contracts meant for small businesses. How is your administration addressing this?
This has been historically true. Federal contracting is so complicated and the scale of the contracts are so large that unless you had a Washington office—lawyers, a battery of accountants, etc.—you couldn’t navigate through the federal procurement process. I told every single member of my cabinet, “I want you to increase transparency, simplify the process, make sure that the goals that we have for small, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses are prioritized inside your agency, and think about other ways that we can break up these contracts into smaller pieces so that smaller businesses could actually bid for them. And we’ve actually seen significant progress in a lot of these agencies.
Black unemployment still stands at nearly 14%. How do you communicate that the economy is headed in the right direction?
Most economists will tell you that there is no doubt the economy has gotten stronger, but we are digging ourselves out a deep hole. There are a lot more things we could be doing. To get them done, we need cooperation of Congress. We got the payroll tax portion of [my American Jobs Act] done, but what we didn’t get done is the assistance I was proposing to the states to help them hire back teachers, firefighters, and first responders, because one of the weakest parts of this recovery has been state and local government hiring.
Given the weaknesses of the construction industry, the American Jobs Act proposed that we rebuild schools, roads, bridges, airport, and ports. That would provide small businesses with opportunities as contractors and vendors in this rebuilding process. Again, Congress needs to act.
What about housing?
Something that has disproportionally affected a lot of minority communities around the country, both African American and Hispanic, [is that] they were preyed upon when it came to predatory lending. What we have been able to do is to help those who have mortgages held by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We have been able to help them refinance at historically low rates, which saves somebody as much as $2,500 a year. And that’s money in their pockets that they can either be spending at your local small business or [to] help them rebuild equity in their homes.
My goal, not just leading up to the election but as long as I’m president of the United States, where we have the capacity to act on our own through the executive branch to widen opportunity or to give small businesses a fair shot, we are going to do it.