Remarks by the First Lady during Department of Treasury Visit
Department of the Treasury
11:40 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everybody. Thank you all so much. You know, it is a pleasure for me to be here. And those of you with seats, please sit. Because there’s a reason you have seats. (Laughter.) I think you’ve worked hard enough. They gave you seats, so use them. Use them.
I am thrilled to be here, your neighbor across the way. Let me tell you, every time somebody comes over, they’re like, “What’s over there?” (Laughter.) Money, Treasury, something like that. So it was very fun to make the commute. I don’t get to walk much outside of the gate. (Laughter.) I walked across the street through the parking lot -- it was a thrill. (Laughter.) So it is good to finally come over and see our neighbors.
I want to start by thanking Secretary Geithner, not just for that kind introduction, but the tremendous work that he’s been doing here at Treasury, taking a lot of heat and still getting the job done. My husband and I are so grateful for his leadership, his friendship, and his intelligence throughout. So we need to give our Secretary a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I want to join the Secretary in recognizing Valerie. It is an honor to have you here. As the Secretary said, you’ve put in your share of years at the IRS in Austin, Texas, and working in the same building where her husband was killed. We are so incredibly sorry for your loss, but you should know that we are praying with you. And it is just wonderful to see such a strong support system here for you. So we are grateful that you’re here. And I was honored to be able to take a picture with you and show it to -- if you can believe, she’s got six kids, seven grandkids. She doesn’t look like she would have all that. (Laughter.) But thank you so much for being here today.
I also want to give a special welcome to someone else: Pauline Fenderson. Where is Pauline? Is that -- I could have known it was you. (Laughter.) It was the hat that tipped me off. But Pauline is from the IRS in Detroit, and Pauline started her career as a typist when Harry Truman was President of the United States. (Applause.)
So she was a typing prodigy. She was probably two when she did that. (Laughter.) Because she looks fantastic. But now, 60 years later, she’s still working as an individual taxpayer assistance specialist. And even though she says that sometimes -- just like all of us, she’s a mere mortal -- sometimes getting up on Mondays is hard –- (laughter) -– she does it because she enjoys giving folks a helping hand.
So I want to congratulate Pauline, and thank you for everything that you’ve done for so, so long for this country. Let’s give Pauline a round of applause. (Applause.)
But whether you’ve been here for 60 years or 60 days -- because we also know there are a lot of new folks who are just joining Treasury -- it’s wonderful to see a group of people who work so hard every day and make such a strong commitment to this country.
And it is a privilege, one of my greatest privileges as First Lady, to be able to travel throughout Washington to say hello and to thank you all for the work that you’re doing, because as my husband always says, he gets a lot of the glory and a lot of the sympathy for working long hours, but the truth is, you all are working hard, you’re making sacrifices. And we couldn’t have accomplished the things that we have in this administration so quickly without your dedication. So my job here is simply to say thank you for all that you do and all that you’ll continue to do. We are truly grateful for your service.
And all of you here at Treasury have, as we know, your plates very full -- probably even an understatement -- for the past 18 months since this administration came onboard. When my husband took office, our nation was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in generations. The financial markets were in turmoil. The auto companies were on the verge of collapse -- we don’t even talk about that anymore. And for millions of Americans, the dreams that they worked so hard for were just slowly slipping away.
So there’s no question that these were difficult challenges, but together, you all have come together to help continue to move this country forward. And for that you should be proud.
You’ve helped the auto industry get back on its feet. You’re well on your way to winding down the TARP program -- I hear with a little cash in hand. (Laughter.) And now, with your help, we’re on the brink of passing financial regulation -- historic. These reforms are going to prevent another crisis like we just saw, and protect all Americans, particularly our military families, from abusive consumer financial practices. This is very important work that you all are accomplishing.
But as you all know, the work you do here at Treasury is about more than the stories that show up in the headlines and on the news. You all do so much more. And folks often don’t hear about all the work that you do. You help families save money to send their kids to college or to buy a car or to pay their mortgage. You help small businesses take out loans. You make sure they’re meeting payroll. One thing that my kids are grateful to you is that you print the currency that we use each and every day. (Laughter.) And I have to tell you, our first year here we did a lot of tours. We went to all the monuments. But we came here to watch money get printed, and it’s still the highlight. Sasha loves those little balls of shredded-up money. (Laughter.)
You all also do things that may be less obvious but equally important -- definitely important to me, like helping our children and our nation stay healthy. As some of you probably know -- I don’t know if many others know -- I’ve been traveling around the country over the last year talking about a program we started called “Let’s Move!” We’re trying to work to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today grow up healthy. And one of the pillars of the program is to eliminate what we call “food deserts.” And these are areas throughout the country where people don’t have access to fresh produce because they don’t have grocery stores. And there are millions of Americans, millions of children living in these food deserts.
And here at Treasury, you’re playing an incredibly important role in addressing this important challenge. In the 2011 budget, this department has proposed to devote $250 million in New Markets Tax Credits and $25 million in grants to provide a powerful incentive for investors to take a chance on projects like grocery stores in underserved communities.
And in February, Secretary Geithner, Secretary Vilsack and I got to visit one of those communities in North Philadelphia. It was a place where, if you can believe it, they didn’t have a viable grocery store in their area for more than a decade -- more than 10 years. So that meant that families trying to nourish their children had to rely on fast food and convenience stores.
But today, thanks to the tax credits in place, the Fresh Grocer opened its doors in North Philadelphia. It’s a beautiful grocery store. And what it’s done, that one little store not only has made it easier for parents to put healthy food on the table for their kids, but it’s been a tremendous economic growth opportunity. It’s created tons of jobs in that area. And it is a beautiful store.
I remember during our visit, we were so mesmerized by the produce section that Secretary Geithner got on the phone, called his wife and asked if he could bring something home. (Laughter.) And he did. What did you get? You got green onions and --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Something healthy.
MRS. OBAMA: It was very healthy. (Laughter.) It was all healthy. And a smoothie. (Laughter.)
But that single grocery store in that community has instilled a great sense of pride in that small Philadelphia community -- providing both stability and sustenance. It was even able to operate during the one of the worst snowstorms that the city experienced this winter because all the employees were determined to show up. They live in the community and they wanted to make sure that that store was open and available for the community.
In the end, that’s really the sense of responsibility that also defines all of you here in the Department of Treasury. From stabilizing our economy and protecting consumers, to creating business opportunities that support community development, to helping give our children the healthy futures they deserve, your work touches the lives of every single American –- even if they don’t always realize it.
For this you deserve our admiration and our respect and our thanks. And we’ve got a long way to go. There’s still a lot of work to do. We need you all energized and feeling ready to continue to move that ball forward. But please know that the President and I are truly grateful for what you’ve done and what you’re going to continue to do. And this is just my small way of saying thank you to you.
So I hope to be back -- if nothing else, to get another little bundle of shredded money. (Laughter.) And I will take some time to come out and shake hands. So thank you all for the work that you’re doing. We’re very proud. (Applause.)
11:51 A.M. EDT