Soldiers exchange dialogue with chairman of Federal Reserve
November 14, 2011
FORT BLISS, Texas (Nov. 14, 2011) -- For the first time during his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke met with U.S. service members at a town hall meeting at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center at East Fort Bliss Thursday.
Soldiers, family members and other members of the Fort Bliss community attended to get questions answered concerning the U.S. economy.
"I'm here because the men and women in military service, like all Americans, are profoundly affected by the economic challenges our nation has faced these past several years," said Bernanke. "Your hometowns may be struggling with foreclosures. You may have had difficulty getting a loan to buy a car or a house. You may have family members who have had trouble finding employment in a tough job market. You may be worried about your own job prospects when the time comes for you to leave the military."
Bernanke began the day hours before the sun rose when he and Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, Fort Bliss and 1st Armored Division commanding general, greeted 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st AD, Soldiers arriving home from Iraq at Biggs Army Airfield. Pittard introduced the chairman at the town hall meeting.
"He's a major player in our world economy," said Pittard. "In addition to meeting us here at Fort Bliss, he also took the time voluntarily to greet our Soldiers coming back from Iraq at 3 a.m. this morning."
Sgt. Robert Williams with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 501st Brigade Support Battalion, and his wife Amanda were at the town hall to both meet Bernanke and gain some understanding of the state of the economy.
"Obviously with economic problems, it would be interesting to hear what someone in the middle of it is saying and what they are planning on doing," said Williams. "My mother just had her house repossessed. Also with government cutbacks, it could affect our benefits. There's already talk about taking away tuition assistance."
"It's important that both of us have a degree before he gets out of the military," said Amanda Williams.
"When you leave the military, take advantage of education benefits for veterans," Bernanke told the audience. "The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays for tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance and books and supplies. Keep in mind that, on average, compared with high school graduates, people with college degrees earn about twice as much and suffer about half the rate of unemployment."
Bernanke also addressed the concerns of Soldiers with mortgages, citing the law that prohibits banks from raising mortgages while a Soldier is deployed.
"We are focused on working with the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to make sure that veterans and Soldiers with mortgages don't get unfairly treated," he said.
Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, taking the cue that he was answering questions concerning Soldiers, asked Bernanke about Congressional debate forestalling the passage of the federal budget, threatening a no-pay situation for deployed Soldiers. Bernanke made clear that budget debates are not something under the Federal Reserve's control, but that they certainly affect the economy.
"We were very concerned about the debate in July and August about the federal debt ceiling," said Bernanke. "This was a very negative event. We could see that consumer confidence dropped quite significantly in August, and I think part of it had to do with this question about how well our government is doing what it needs to be doing."
Sgt. Robert Williams pressed the issue of the credit downgrade made by Standard and Poor's following the Congressional budget debates earlier this year.
"The downgrade didn't scare off any investors," said Bernanke. "U.S. treasuries remain a safe haven. Whenever you see a situation, whenever there's an increased volatility in the markets because some concern about Europe or something else that's causing worries, what you see is that people come in and buy treasuries. They do that because it really is one of the safest investments in the world."
Bernanke spoke to the troubles of small business owners after being questioned on the subject by a Soldier who, along with his wife, owns a small business.
"Small businesses, especially young businesses, are a big part of the job creation process, so it's in the interest of the whole economy, not just small business owners, to get small business lending and small business taxes back on track," said Bernanke. "Our evidence is that things are getting a little bit better as our banks become more willing to lend. And as the economy strengthens and as the prospects of small businesses look better, I think this situation is going to improve."
One of the attendees asked whether the economy could get back to where it was prior to the downturn, or whether 2008 represented a fundamental shift for the economy. Bernanke said no one wants the economy to be in the same place it was in 2005.
"The economy is still far from where we'd like it to be," said Bernanke. "We're trying to gain more stability and get the economy slowly toward a full-employment, stable situation and that's taking time. And many of you are impatient and worried, and I fully understand that."
"I want to end by sounding a note of optimism," said Bernanke. "The U.S. economy remains the largest in the world, with a highly diverse mix of industries and a degree of international competitiveness that, if anything, has improved in recent years. The United States continues to be a great place to do business with a strong system of laws, an entrepreneurial tradition and flexible capital and labor markets."