THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, Happy Easter and Happy Passover. I’m sorry that you guys, like us, are working today.
We just had a terrific conversation with Ben Bernanke, Sheila Bair, and our entire regulatory group to talk about progress that we’re making on the economy. And I wanted to just give you a little bit of a sense of the efforts that we’ve been making in stabilizing the financial markets.
And I want to thank SEC Chair Mary Shapiro, as well as Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, for joining us. They weren’t with us the last time we met.
We discussed ongoing stabilization of the financial system and the steps that have already been taken. I spoke yesterday about the progress that’s been made in the housing market. As a consequence of some excellent work by Ben and some coordinated activities between the various agencies, what we’ve seen is mortgage interest rates go down to historic lows and we’ve seen a very significant pick-up in refinancings. That has the effect of not only putting money in the pockets of people but also contributing to stabilization of the housing market.
We discussed the public-private investment mechanisms that we have set up so that we can start getting some of these toxic assets off the books. And all the agencies here have been involved in further refining the ideas and making them work effectively, and we feel confident that even as we’re dealing with the problems within the banking system, that we’re also addressing some of the problems in the non-bank financial system that was such a huge proportion of our credit flow when it came to things like auto loans and credit cards and so forth.
We feel very good about the progress that we’re making in unlocking lending in some particular markets, for example the small business area. Some of you will recall that a couple of weeks ago we made a presentation about how we were going to help thaw lending to small businesses, and I’m pleased to discover that because of our actions we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in the largest SBA loan program in the last month alone.
And what that means is that small businesses are starting to get money that allows them to keep their doors open, make payroll, and that is going to contribute to our overall economic growth, as well as help make sure that people are able to keep their jobs.
And we have also seen this month people starting to get their first checks in terms of the tax cuts that were initiated through the recovery package. And when you combine it with the other efforts that are being made across the country for infrastructure projects, for the kinds of innovative energy programs that were part of the recovery package, what you’re starting to see is glimmers of hope across the economy.