One week ago, I posted "A Call For Questions for Timothy Geithner" on the Huffington Post in an effort to gather direct questions from the people who are living with this recession. As one of the five members of the Oversight Panel that Congress created to oversee TARP, my goal was to present some of these questions when we questioned Secretary Geithner at a public hearing last Tuesday.
Within hours of my posting, there were hundreds of responses that expressed deep concerns and skepticism about Treasury's programs, and provided a real cross section of views across political, social and economic lines. I read every one of these comments, which were often accompanied by personal stories. Thank you for giving me a better sense of your views and for helping me formulate my questions to Secretary Geithner.
My time allowed for just 10 minutes of questions and answers with the Secretary during which I highlighted three areas that emerged from the Huffington Post comments and that I agree are critical: bank lending, foreclosures, and measuring progress.
On bank lending, the question by JDM73 in Alabama best captured the concerns of many bloggers and of people I speak with in New York. He simply asked "When are the banks going to stop sitting on all that money and start lending again?" I put that exact question to Secretary Geithner in my opening statement because I very much wanted him to see people's concern that tax payer money has gone to the banks, but it is not yet clear that people's investment is achieving the goal of increased lending and stabilized markets.
On foreclosures, I asked the Secretary to help us better understand the implementation of the Administration's Making Home Affordable program, which offers modification and refinancing plans for eligible homeowners. The Secretary put forth this broad and comprehensive proposal in February and announced further details in March. However, I know from my work as Chair of New York's foreclosure prevention Task Force that, despite the announcement, housing counselors and people on the brink of losing their homes are anxious to see the program implemented quickly. Huffington Post readers clearly expressed this concern as well.
Concern that Treasury's program is not being implemented quickly enough inspired my line of foreclosure questioning. Secretary Geithner responded that the "majority of servicers in the country" have signed onto the program and that Treasury would be "moving quickly to lay out the details to the public." I was pleased to hear that, and I plan to remain vigilant in my follow-up and requests for more clarity. Not only do struggling homeowners need help, we all do. I agree with the commenter SFRussell1963 who stated that "this recession hinges on housing." This economic downturn began as a mortgage crisis and will not end until that crisis is resolved.
On measuring progress, your questions made it even clearer to me that Treasury has to do a better job communicating the success, or failure, of its efforts. I told the Secretary that people are not seeing progress, and I stressed that Treasury must provide a better system for measuring success and communicate it in a way that people can understand, ideally in a standardized format on the Treasury's website. I also told him that while his plan is viable, it can only work with the support of the American people. I plan on following up with him so that information becomes available that will allow people to judge Treasury's actions.
Finally, because of the many thoughtful questions I received and the inability to capture enough of them in 10 minutes, I reserved the final minute of my questioning to ask that the Secretary review and respond to your questions, and he agreed. My staff and I are organizing them into categories to send him a broad sampling that gets to the heart of your thinking.
Again, thank you for helping me and the Panel with our questions for Secretary Geithner. Your input is always welcome, so I plan on remaining in a conversation with you as we go forward. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com.