Consumer News & Views
In this Issue…
States are Slow to Tap $7.6 Billion to Help homeowners Avoid Foreclosure. A government report reveals that a $7.6 billion federal program to help homeowners avoid foreclosures has distributed about 1% of its money to distressed owners some 16 months after its creation.
The Obama administration awarded the funds last year to 18 states most affected by unemployment and fallen home prices. The states developed their own foreclosure-prevention programs targeting assistance to lower-income jobless and under-employed homeowners.
By June 30, reports that were filed with the U.S. Treasury Department show that 17 states had used the funds to help about 7,500 homeowners. New Jersey, which began its program in May, started making loans only this month. Funds are flowing more rapidly now, state officials say. All the states have launched their programs. The last was Illinois last week.
Overall, the Hardest Hit Fund is expected to help several hundred thousand homeowners. States have until 2017 to use their allotted funds.
"We are ramping up quickly now," says Di Richardson, head of the California program. Its program began in January; by June 30, it had funded 1,022 homeowners. That's now up to more than 2,000, and an additional 5,000 are close to getting aid, Richardson says.
Since President Obama announced the program in February 2010, banks have repossessed more than 1.5 million homes, says market researcher RealtyTrac. Millions more are at risk. Officials in many states say it took longer than expected to develop systems for states to transfer funds and borrower data to mortgage servicers, who manage loans.
"That was more complicated than we thought it would be," says Cynthia Flaherty, head of Ohio's program, which includes 200 servicers. Ohio is now adding 500 borrowers to its program monthly, Flaherty says. Ten were added in December, its first month.
The program started with $1.5 billion for five states and was expanded to 18. Funds were most recently awarded in September 2010. "You wish states could move quicker. But you also don't want them to waste the money," says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Andrea Risotto, Treasury spokeswoman, says the program required "considerable infrastructure."
The programs generally include temporary mortgage assistance from for six to 24 months.
Wal-Mart CEO Sees Stressed-out Consumers in U.S. The largest employer in the U.S. says short-term economic fixes could work, but sustained job creation won't happen without tax reform and new trade agreements. One week after President Obama and Congress launched new jobs plans, Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke (pictured below with Wal-Mart employees) says there are structural issues holding back American companies. I caught up with the man running the largest retailer in the world to find out what to expect for the rest of the year and how to get businesses hiring again.
Duke told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo in an interview, “I'm not an economist, so I always qualify any forecast with a simple approach of how I hear customers talking in our stores. And customers today are concerned. If we could start to see improvements in unemployment or lower fuel prices, then I could see that lead to more positive consumer confidence and consumer spending.
“The overall global economy is still struggling. Because Wal-Mart operates in 28 countries, we get a pretty good perspective. I'm out visiting stores virtually every week, and consumer confidence is not good. Probably the single biggest topic of concern is unemployment and jobs. This lengthy period of high unemployment is causing that cycle of consumer confidence to really be down. Increases in fuel costs really take from the consumer's spending ability. The U.S. consumer is under a lot of pressure. Meanwhile, we have large businesses in China and Brazil, and that's a different story. Those markets have recovered faster. There's more optimism. A strong consumer and emerging middle class is leading to faster rates of growth in the emerging markets around the world.”
Thomas Hinton, president of the American Consumer Council echoed Duke’s concerns saying, “Until meaningful job creation returns to middle America, and the government figures out a way to keep homeowners in their homes and stop foreclosures, the American economy will continue to struggle. And, as long as America struggles, the rest of the world’s economy will also struggle.”
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