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Banks Given Capital Break for Small Business Loans Amid Crisis

April 9, 2020, 2:06 PM

The Federal Reserve and other regulators have granted a sweeping capital break for banks providing loans to small businesses as part of the government’s response to the coronavirus-fueled economic crisis.

Acknowledging that lending through what’s known as the Paycheck Protection Program doesn’t pose a risk for U.S. banks, regulators won’t make lenders maintain capital buffers as a protection for them, the Fed, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said in a Thursday statement.

Such loans will be backed by a recently announced Fed lending facility, and the rule’s text says the regulators would agree to “allow banking organizations to neutralize the regulatory capital effects of participating in the facility.”

Facilitating Lending

The rule change is meant to smooth the path for banks to facilitate Small Business Administration loans to companies facing the risk of bankruptcy amid the shutdown of the U.S. economy. Roughly $350 billion in rescue funds were made available as part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed last month. Lawmakers are negotiating a second bill that would add $250 billion to the SBA program.

The capital relief is being granted through an interim final rule, meaning it takes effect immediately while still giving the public the chance to offer comments. The move is similar to what was previously done for banks participating in the Fed’s Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility.

De-regulatory Moves

Banks ranging from Wall Street giants to community lenders have already benefited from a number of de-regulatory moves by the Fed and other agencies amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic. The Fed on Wednesday said it is temporarily lifting a cap on asset growth for Wells Fargo & Co. to allow it to boost lending through the SBA program. The penalty was imposed on the bank for opening millions of accounts without customers’ approval, one of the biggest industry scandals in recent years.

The Fed had announced its new lending facility Monday in a brief statement, saying it would provide term financing to banks against loans issued under the SBA program. Under the initiative, banks provide loans to small businesses to cover payroll, rent and utilities for as long as eight weeks. The loans convert to grants if the companies retain or rehire their workers.

--With assistance from Christopher Condon.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Saleha Mohsin in Washington at;
Lydia Beyoud in Arlington at;
Jesse Hamilton in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at

Jesse Westbrook, Gregory Mott

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