Every single day, President Obama receives a special memorandum with “10 pieces of correspondence addressed to” him from Americans of all walks of life, a tradition he has kept up since he made the request to receive these letters on the second day of his presidency.
In January of this year, Obama read a letter from Jennifer Cline, a 28 year-old woman living in Monroe, Michigan. Cline informed Obama that she and her husband had both lost their jobs in 2007 and fallen on hard times as a result. “I lost my job, my health benefits and my self-worth in a matter of five days,” she wrote. Following the loss of her job, Cline “was diagnosed with two types of skin cancer, and she had no health insurance. She signed up for Medicaid, and treatment was successful. She went back to college after her unemployment benefit was extended.” She hoped that in “just a couple of years we will be in a great spot.”
After reading the letter, Obama chose to reply with a handwritten note on White House stationary. He wrote, “Thanks for the very kind and inspiring letter. I know times are tough, but knowing there are folks out there like you and your husband gives me confidence that things will keep getting better!”
But things, unfortunately, did not get better. Crunched by the costs of a down payment on her home and cancer treatments, Cline has been forced to sell her letter from the president to earn some money. She is selling the letter to autograph dealer Gary Zimet for $7,000, who will then sell it on his website momentsintime.com, which markets autographs:
But things didn’t immediately improve for Cline, who’s now agreed to sell the letter to autograph dealer Gary Zimet for $7,000. He tells us, “The letter is a historical document, and it is very hard for her to part with it. It’s very timely considering the elections. But I don’t think she’s disillusioned with Obama — this is just about surviving and practicality. She is selling it to pay for a house, which I think is poetic justice.”
Zimet plans to sell it on his Web site, momentsintime.com. He noted, “Handwritten letters of any sitting president on White House letterhead are extremely rare. It is certainly worth more than I am paying for it.” Zimet, who took possession of the letter on Saturday, added she was “selling the letter for a down payment on a house and to pay off medical bills from her cancer treatment.” Cline and the White House did not get back to us.
Cline’s story is tragic, but unfortunately her circumstance of having to take desperate measures just to keep her home is not unique. The housing market has been a nightmare since the housing bubble burst, with countless homeowners being unable to make the payments to keep their homes. By 2009, three million homeowners received at least one foreclosure notice, and as of July 2010, one in seven mortgages were delinquent.
The administration’s primary policy response to the foreclosure crisis was the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which started in June 2009 and was “meant to keep 3 to 4 million troubled borrowers in their homes by lowering their mortgage payments to a sustainable level.” Yet by Aug. 2010, 40 percent of homeowners who had participated in the program had dropped out. “HAMP has not put an appreciable dent in foreclosure filings,” noted a report from the Special Inspector General for TARP that same month. “Foreclosure filings have increased dramatically while HAMP has been in place, with permanent modifications constituting just a few drops in an ocean of foreclosure filings.” The program’s problems stem from banks’ inability to process enrollments in a timely manner and a lack of incentive for banks to ensure that borrowers successfully complete the program.
The administration and Congress have not stepped up to the bat for tougher measures that would help homeowners. Legislation that would allow for “cramdown” — which would let a third party re-negotiate mortgage terms — has been voted down multiple times by legislators, and was met with little backing by the Obama White House. While leading progressive politicians and economists continue to argue in favor of a moratorium, the administration continues to oppose one.