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Press Center

 Remarks of Anna Escobedo Cabral U.S. Treasurer U.S. Department of the Treasury Before the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce


6/23/2006


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Fajardo, Puerto Rico - Muy buenas tardes.  Es un placer estar con todos ustedes hoy d�a en la bella "Isla del Encanto" � Puerto Rico.  Agradezco inmensamente esta invitaci�n y oportunidad de compartir con ustedes un poco de informaci�n sobre algunas medidas que la Administraci�n del Presidente Bush y el Departamento del Tesoro han designado como prioridades para garantizar el constante crecimiento econ�mico que hemos visto en los Estados Unidos en los �ltimos a�os.

Estar� compartiendo estos pensamientos con todos ustedes hoy d�a en ingl�s, pero con mucho gusto tratar� de responder a cualquier inquietud al concluir esta porci�n del programa en ambos idiomas � ingl�s y espa�ol.

Once again, thanks so much for your warm welcome.  Thank you to the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce and Miriam for inviting me here today.

As I was saying, I am thrilled to be back in beautiful Puerto Rico to speak to such a distinguished group of business leaders, and particularly to all inspiring Puerto Rico business-women present in this room today. 

It is also an honor to join Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, and Representative Jos� Aponte, President of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, at this conference.  I really appreciate the hospitality demonstrated to me and I am truly touched by the wonderful recognition given to me earlier today as an honored guest.  And of course, it is also a great honor to be joined by so many other distinguished guests at this week's conference, particularly Dr. Antonia Coello Novello, who as many of you know served as the 14th Surgeon General of the U.S.  What an amazing achievement!

As I look out into this room, I see an example of what is possible with a little bit of planning, faith, hard work and some responsible risk-taking.  I can honestly say I feel so inspired by each and every one of you.

You know, Latina entrepreneurs and business-women really are a force to be reckoned with � and not just in the United States � but on a global scale. 

  • More than one-third (34.9%) of all Hispanic owned firms are owned by women. Hispanic women-owned firms employ 18.5% of the workers in all Hispanic-owned firms and generate 16.3% of the sales. (Center for Business Women's Business Research, November 2004)
  • Latinas control 39% of the 1.4 million companies owned by minority women in the United States, which generate nearly $147 billion in sales. (Center for Women's Business Research, November 2004)
  • Four in 10 minority women-owned firms are owned by Latinas. (U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)

I want to thank you, not only on my behalf, but also on behalf of Secretary Snow and President Bush for all you do to help build prosperity on a large scale.

In the U.S. we've seen that our economy has surged over the past few years.  Although I only have a few minutes to spend with you today, I'll spend some time sharing some facts about this amazing economic growth we're experiencing, and also spend time sharing with you information about what helped get us to this point.  But I will also take a few minutes to raise some issues of rather pressing importance for you to consider, and I will ask you to think about some critical areas, which still merit our attention.  For instance, we need to continue spending increased time and effort on such areas as improving financial literacy and education.  Treasury is engaged in many efforts right now to promote increased financial literacy of all people in the U.S. as well as abroad.  I'll tell you about some resources you can pass on to your employees � useful tools and resources to help people manage their personal finances and create wealth.

For now, I'd like to begin by circling back to my first comment � businesses have really contributed greatly to the U.S. economy in the past few years. 

I'd like to share some recent facts and statistics with you, so that you can really come to understand the power and influence you have on markets, and more importantly, on individual lives.  

Consider this.  In the first quarter of 2006, the U.S. economy grew at an impressive rate of 5.3 percent, following an already very impressive year for growth.  In 2005, our economy grew at 3.5 percent.  We keep outdoing ourselves � and the pie keeps growing. 

The President always does a nice job of putting those figures into perspective and I want to do the same today.  To put it into context for you, think of this � in 2005, our economy grew faster than Japan and more than twice as fast as France.  It also grew more than three-times as fast as Germany.

In fact, the U.S. economy is the fastest growing of any major industrialized nation in the world.  Productivity is growing at the highest rate in years, and much of that can be attributed to businesses much like the ones you are responsible for running.

For 33 consecutive months, our economy has created an astounding number of new jobs � 5.3 million new jobs � and many Latina business owners can take credit for that high figure.  You are creating jobs and improving people's lives.  Right now, the national unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 percent � lower than the average of any decade since the 1950's. 

I'm really excited about that figure � more than most.  You see, I have 4 grown children and only one left in college.  MIT is a good school, but let me tell you, I'll be happy when my son Christopher graduates.  I'm really actually quite thrilled, because my children, your children, young professionals graduating from college will have the benefit of taking advantage of a fantastic job market.  The job market for college graduates is the best it's been in five years.

Small businesses are flourishing and creating many of those jobs.  We need to give small business owners a lot of credit because it takes courage to start and manage your own business.  There is a great deal of new business investment out there � and that is really fantastic news, since it serves as an indication of confidence that we will continue to do well far ahead into the future.  When business owners like you invest and expand your operations, it is clear that great things are ahead of us, that we foresee only more growth and success.

Did you know that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses is growing at three times the national rate?  Hispanic unemployment is at the lowest rate in years at only 5 percent?  Additionally, real after-tax income has grown by almost 9 percent.  Now that is the power of ownership!  It stands to reason why this Administration strongly advocates and promotes an ownership society.

Well, you have to stop and wonder how we achieved all this growth despite the many challenges this Administration inherited just a few years ago � a recession, the stock market correction, corporate scandals, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the Gulf Coast Hurricanes devastation of last year.

The key really is to encourage growth through sound fiscal and monetary policy.  Bottom line, the government cut taxes and yet generated more tax revenues this past year.  Surging tax revenues are a sign of a strong economy.  Tax revenues have well-exceeded forecasts for 2004 and 2005.  Treasury is now reporting the highest annual tax receipts ever.  To date tax receipts are up almost 13% this year, an added gain to last year's gain of 14.5%. 

In fact, one of the most important explanations for this strong economy is low taxes.  We find repeatedly that when you allow people to keep more of their own money, they have more money to invest, more of it to start or expand a business, or to pay for other important things like a college education or to purchase a home. 

In a pro-business environment, those additional dollars may be better spent by a business in order to expand and increase the production of goods and provision of services to clients at home and abroad.  We do, after all, live in a global marketplace. 

We need to continue to encourage an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit remains strong, allowing people to keep more of the money they earn.  With more investment, this economy can only continue to grow.  We can't expect the government to do it all for us � we can't expect it to make money for us.  We've got to do it for ourselves � and we have to create our own opportunities.  In order to do so successfully however, government and the private, public and nonprofit sectors need to acquire the skills to manage their money wisely, to invest it and make it grow.

I earlier mentioned the importance of improving financial education.  In my role as Treasurer, I will continue working toward achieving this goal of improving financial education for all people in the U.S. and abroad.

Although our economy continues to grow and there are more jobs available for more Americans since the 1950's, somehow we continue to fall short in the area of personal finance knowledge and good personal finance habits.

This could be attributed to a complex and burgeoning economy like ours that creates more choices and sophisticated vehicles for saving and making one's money grow.  (This can be an especially daunting challenge for people who are unfamiliar with this country's customs and primary language � English.)

When we talk about financial education in today's terms, what we're really talking about is improving people's quality of life.  But achieving our common goals will require us to go beyond creating additional nicely manicured brochures.

As I often say, education means not just presenting information in a nice neat package � it also means delivering it through the right channels by people who are trusted in their respective communities.

This sort of education in which we're all engaged in is really about helping to create new opportunities for people � opportunities like paying for a child's college education, purchasing a home, starting a business or planning for a secure retirement.  

That is why improving financial education levels for all Americans is a high priority for Treasury and President Bush's Administration.

Additionally, it is important to promote financial education because we can see what can happen to those that are disenfranchised from access to financial education or a relationship with traditional financial service providers. 

We witnessed this first-hand after last year's Gulf Coast Hurricanes.  Many people without bank accounts in these hard hit areas found it much more difficult to access benefits they were expecting to receive, and often times could not do so by traditional mail because they were displaced and difficult to track and reach.

At Treasury, we are engaged in several campaigns and multi-agency efforts to improve financial education in the country.

First, Treasury leads the efforts of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission created in 2003 when the President signed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, and the twenty agencies that form it were tasked with developing a plan to improve the money management skills of people in the U.S.  Commonly referred to as the FLEC, it recently released a strategy for financial education during Financial Literacy Month in April of 2006 titled � Taking Ownership of the Future: The National Strategy for Financial Literacy. 

The Commission was also tasked with developing a federal financial education web site and toll-free hotline, which were launched in English and Spanish in October of 2004 � MyMoney.gov and 1-888-MyMoney.  I urge you to visit and spread the word about MyMoney.gov.  It has been recently updated to include an interactive quiz called the "Money Twenty" and the strategy that I mentioned earlier is also available and can be downloaded at MyMoney.gov.

The Strategy looks at a variety of important topics, such as homeownership, credit management, retirement savings, and "banking the unbanked" � an issue that my office has currently been particularly focused on and is researching extensively. 

It also describes the challenges and guideposts for possible solutions.

Sometimes the solutions come from the Federal government, but often nonprofit organizations, businesses and other private sector players provide important resources for those wishing to learn more about financial matters.

It also puts forward examples of financial education programs that community leaders, business people, and volunteers can all look to as they design programs of their own to enhance financial literacy.

And at the end of each chapter in the strategy, you will notice that Calls to Action are highlighted.  It is our hope that these calls to action will provide a springboard for further open and inclusive discussion on a whole myriad of issues.

I also want to tell you about another very special campaign my office has been involved in � Go Direct.  About a year and half ago, the Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks launched a campaign called Go Direct, in Spanish known as Directo A Su Cuenta.    Its objective is to encourage seniors to receive their Social Security benefits by direct deposit.  

It not only communicates the importance of direct deposit � but provides the means by which seniors can make the switch from a paper check to direct deposit. We have a dedicated call center staffed by bilingual personnel ready to assist all beneficiaries.

 

The call center is only one of many ways we are helping beneficiaries sign up for direct deposit. Our Web sites: www.GoDirect.org and www.DirectoASuCuenta.org, allows beneficiaries to access a step-by-step online tool to sign up � either on their own or through their bank or credit union.

It's a known fact that direct deposit is not only the most secure way for receiving Social Security benefits; it is also the most convenient way for all beneficiaries to have immediate access to their benefits.  However, despite 95 percent of Americans having heard or read about identity theft, a survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks revealed that many are unaware of the security benefits of direct deposit over paper checks. 

That is why I urge you to help us spread the word about this great free service.  Keep in mind that direct deposit can also provide seniors receiving SSA payments with a sense of control of their money.  This is true even under the most difficult circumstances.  Again, as you know Hurricane Katrina displaced tens of thousands of beneficiaries just days before their checks arrived in the mail. In uncertain times like these, enrolling in direct deposit can offer a much needed peace of mind to federal benefit recipients.   

I have had a chance to share some very good economic news with you.  But statistics cannot adequately capture the contributions of business leaders like yourselves, individuals who have the potential of bringing about positive change and improving people's lives.  That is invaluable and that is why your work and contributions are so important.

Thank you again � this has been a great opportunity for me to share with you just a few of the efforts we're involved in here at Treasury and to highlight just some of the President's priorities to keep our economy and businesses strong.

Please enjoy the rest of the conference!

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