Small Business Lending Fund Finally Divvies Up $30 Billion. But is it Working?

4 min read • Jul 27, 2011 • Dan Bischoff

Last month, Politico ran a story saying that nine months after its formation, the Small Business Lending Fund has yet to pay out a single dime.

But that’s not true anymore. A week later, Pioneer Bank announced it received more than $3 million from the Small Business Lending Fund. So far, 23 banks have received a total of $337 million.

In June, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the House Small Business Committee, “We have begun notifying banks that have been approved for the program, and expect to begin providing capital very soon.”

Up until that point, 844 institutions had applied for $11.6 billion from the fund, to no avail. After nine months, people were getting impatient on the holdup. In June, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) held a hearing with Geithner, hoping he’d shed some light on why it had taken so long to give funds to the banks when the nation continued to struggle with traumatic levels of unemployment.

About the Small Business Lending Fund
When it passed in September 2010, the Small Business Jobs Act set aside a $30 billion fund for smaller banks — those with less than $10 billion in assets, to lend small business owners. The money, in theory, would free up capital so banks could grant more loans to companies looking to buy new equipment and hire more workers.

When grilled by lawmakers last month, Geithner said “I wish it were different, but the reason we are a little behind schedule is because we are being careful and because the regulators are being careful,” said Geithner. “And that is what you would like us — that is what you want us to be.”

However, the drawn-out process has raised concerns about whether the program can actually create jobs. “At hearings last month, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) warned that banks could use the fund to reimburse the government for costlier loans issued at the height of the financial crisis through the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program,” wrote Josh Bank, a reporter for Politico.

Others call the Small Business Lending Fund a failure, despite signs that it’s finally shelling out funds.

Why?

1. Snail’s Pace

    • Snails are extremely slow creatures, which the government seems to model itself after. It took nearly

one whole long year

    • to start delivering funds. Not exactly an efficient program.

A lot can happen in 10 months without enough capital. During that time, many small businesses could have gone out of business. Many businesses that might have qualified for a loan then, may not be able to now. How many employees could have been hired if companies had access to those funds almost a year ago? How many families could that have helped? How has the inefficiencies of this program affected the entire economy?

2. Banks Don’t Want It

“These institutions would essentially be paying off one taxpayer-funded credit card — TARP — with another in the form of the lending fund,” Snowe said. Some banks also think taking the money creates a perception that their bank is in trouble.

CNN reported that many community banks aren’t interested in the program. “There are 7,000 community banks across the nation, according to the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA). But only 926 — slightly more than 13% — of those banks even applied to participate in the program.”

3. The SBA Already Works

When the recession hit, banks grew wary of credit risk and stopped lending. Government loan guarantees through the SBA became a lifeline for business owners.

Since October, the SBA has approved 1,137 loans worth more than $2 million each, according to Politico.

“It really opened our programs to small manufacturers who previously would have been ineligible,” said Steve Smits, who oversees capital access for the SBA. “Maybe they needed a warehouse. Maybe they needed equipment.”

“For the first time in its history, the SBA expects banks will lend the entire $17.5 billion connected to the program by the end of the fiscal year in September. Much of the borrowing — $12 billion — occurred through Jobs Act incentives in the first quarter of the fiscal year, leading to the creation and retention of 261,570 jobs, according to the SBA,” wrote Josh Boak, in his Politico article.

Some Are Happy About Fund

CNN interviewed Rusty Cloutier, president and CEO of MidSouth Bank, who was notified that he was approved for $32 million from the program.

“We are extremely excited about getting it,” said Cloutier. He thinks the money will help the businesses in his community. “Certainly we are trying to get loans out to customers that are creating jobs. You know, it is not only creating jobs, it is also saving jobs.”

Your Turn

What do you think? Is the Small Business Lending Fund a failure? If you’re a bank, have you requested or received funds?

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Dan Bischoff