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Small firms may get $30 billion in bailout aid

The Obama administration is setting aside $30 billion from the financial bailout fund for a program designed to encourage lending to small businesses to aid the economic recovery.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Obama administration is setting aside $30 billion from the financial bailout fund for a program designed to encourage lending to small businesses to aid the economic recovery.

An internal document obtained by The Associated Press spell out how the Treasury Department plans to spend money from the fund before it expires in October 2010. The document show $40 billion would go to consumer and business lending programs.

Of that amount, $30 billion would support lending to small companies, according to a Treasury official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because no final decisions on the program have been made.

President Barack Obama said in October that the administration would create an expanded business lending program but officials have had trouble finalizing the details.

Another Treasury official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said a range of options were still being considered and key members of Congress were being consulted. He said final decisions were not expected until next year.

The internal briefing paper showed the administration is projecting it will commit an additional $21 billion to mortgage relief efforts. That's on top of $29 billion already committed, bringing that program up to the $50 billion the administration has projected.

But a watchdog report last week estimated the amount spent so far at just $2.3 million. It also estimated that only 4 percent of the borrowers who have signed up have been helped.

Critics have said it's highly unlikely the administration will meet its goal of helping up to 4 million borrowers with modified loans. Of the 760,000 who have signed up for the program since it launched in March, just over 31,000 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications.

The internal Treasury document projected that in all, an additional $68 billion would be committed before the $700 billion bailout fund, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, expires on Oct. 3, 2010.

The program was authorized by Congress in October 2008 at the height of the financial crisis as the government scrambled to shore up a banking system suffering its worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Over the past year, the financial system has stabilized with the help of billions injected into banks to bolster their capital — the reserves they have to protect against loan losses. But critics charge that TARP has failed to achieve its main goal: to get banks to lend more to consumers and small businesses.

The TARP program has been attacked as a bailout for Wall Street, allowing big banks to reap huge profits and lavish executives with bonuses. Banks have scrambled to repay their support so they can avoid government limits in areas such as executive pay.

In addition to the $21 billion for mortgage relief and $30 billion to boost loans to small businesses, the administration would devote $10 billion to support consumer loans. This would be done through a program operated with the Federal Reserve known as the Term Asset-Back Securities Loan Facility.

Under the program, the Fed provides financing for investors to buy securities backed by auto loans, credit card debt and other consumer loans to boost credit in these areas.

The Treasury document showed that only $3 billion would be committed to provide banks with capital. That compares with $205 billion spent on what became the biggest part of TARP. Officials said this figure will cover 10 to 15 banks that have been approved for TARP support but haven't yet received the money.

Another $3 billion will be devoted to the Public-Private Investment Program, which already has received $27 billion in TARP commitments. This is a program between Treasury and private investment groups who are buying banks' toxic assets to encourage them to lend more.

When then-Secretary Henry Paulson pushed Congress to approve TARP in the fall of 2008, its main goal was to buy toxic assets. But Paulson abandoned this approach as the crisis worsened and switched to direct infusions of capital into banks.

The Treasury document projects that the commitments from the $700 billion TARP program will total $550 billion. Many parts of the rescue fund are projected to get no further money.

The auto bailout program, for instance, won't grow beyond the $87 billion the government has already committed. That figure includes $6.5 billion the government has designated for GMAC, the financing arm for GM. That money hasn't yet been transferred to GMAC.

The Treasury document shows that of the $482 billion committed so far from TARP, $370 billion has been disbursed. The government has received $163 billion in repayments. That figure includes announcements this week of planned repayments by Wells Fargo and Citigroup.