By Bill Parry, Times Ledger
When Greece’s economy cratered in July, its large expatriate community in Astoria, which has the largest Greek population outside of Athens, held its collective breath. Now nearly two months later as the country awaits its international bailout, the Greek government has begun to relax restrictions on banking transactions.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) joined state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and Greek-American financial and business leaders last week to call for U.S. actions to boost Greece’s ailing economy. Maloney, the co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and ranking member of the House Financial Services Capital Markets and GSEs Subcommittee, sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the heads of two key U.S. federal financial regulators urging them to work with their counterparts in Greece to find a way to allow for U.S. remittances, generally transfers of money from one country to another, to reach family and friends in Greece.
Maloney’s efforts follow a meeting she attended Aug. 6, that included Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, to discuss efforts to assist Greece during its financial crisis. During the meeting an interministerial committee was established to discuss humanitarian, economic, trade, military, investment, and health issues with the Greek government. Meeting participants encouraged the formulation of a reform plan that would make the debt sustainable and create a path to economic recovery.
“Greece gets over $800 million a year in remittances, but right now that money is just sitting on the sidelines because of the capital controls on the Greek banks,” Maloney said. “We need to find a way to get the money into the Greek economy right away, so people can start paying bills, buying groceries and creating jobs.”
Greek citizens have had problems accessing remittance funds from the United States due to the weekly withdrawal limit of $67 imposed on Greek banks. The limit was imposed to prevent the country’s banks from collapsing in a disorderly and chaotic fashion.
“Hardworking Greek-Americans who have achieved the American dream want nothing more than to help out their families who are struggling during this hard time,” Simotas said. “We should do all that we can to ensure that these remittances reach their intended recipients in a timely manner.”
In her letters, Maloney stressed that ensuring a strong Greek recovery is of great importance to the United States (U.S. is only used as an adjective) because Greece is a key NATO ally and it is geostrategically located in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“As the world gets smaller and the interdependency of our economies grows, it becomes more important to help our allies maintain a robust economic climate,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “It is important for all our sakes to do what we can to help Greece recover from its current crisis as soon as possible.”