LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday that efforts to increase access to credit and financial assistance in underserved areas can help bridge America’s partisan divide, as he and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hosted a daylong summit focused on economic inequality.
The Clintons opened the daylong conference at the former president’s library in Little Rock to mark the 25th anniversary of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, a federal initiative that provides assistance to low-income communities. The conference featured former Clinton administration officials, nonprofit leaders, mayors and others.
“This is an enormous opportunity for us to bridge this partisan divide and do something together,” the former president said. “Because a lot of these urban neighborhoods have the same sort of credit challenges that these small towns do.”
Several of the candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination have campaigned on economic inequality as a major issue, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but neither Clinton touched on presidential politics when they addressed the conference.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in 2016, urged attendees to look for ways to provide smaller loans at market rates so that people in underserved areas don’t have to turn to payday lenders.
“People are desperate. They don’t think a bank would lend them that money they need for that next car payment because they just got laid off but think they’ll get another job next month, or that medical emergency no one could have predicted,” she said.
When asked what issues she doesn’t think are getting enough attention, she said she doesn’t think there has been enough of a focus on the future in areas such as renewable energy.
“Right now, we’re ceding the future at great cost to ourselves and our people but also to the great delight of our competitors and our adversaries,” she said.
The former president said increasing access to affordable high-speed internet would also help address economic inequality.
“I think if we had affordable, rapid, high-quality broadband to every American in every hamlet in this country, it would be much easier to have a more even rate of economic growth,” he said.