White House plan to help borrowers could die in House

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Obama administration's main initiative to help struggling borrowers avoid foreclosure could soon be killed in the House, where many Republican lawmakers have complained about the program's lackluster results.

The initiative, known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, aims to reduce borrowers' monthly payments to affordable levels. When it was launched in March 2009, the administration projected that it would prevent 3 million to 4 million foreclosures before it expired in December 2012.

But the program is far off track, having permanently modified about 521,000 mortgages as of December. Republican lawmakers say the results are not worth the cost, which is why a House Financial Services subcommittee considered killing the program and three others at a hearing Wednesday.

The administration and consumer advocates, however, say that pulling the program's funding would destabilize a fragile housing market as foreclosures continue to mount.

"Ending HAMP now, without a meaningful alternative in place, would mean that struggling homeowners would have far fewer ways of coping with the worst housing crisis in generations," Timothy G. Massad, the Treasury Department's acting assistant secretary for financial stability, said in a statement sent Tuesday to the subcommittee.

As of February, the program has disbursed $1.04 billion in incentive payments to mortgage servicers that permanently modified loans, said Katie Jones, a housing policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service, in prepared testimony.

- Dina ElBoghdady


Ronald McDonald, taking a break today

As McDonald's morphs into a more upscale chain, there's one person you won't see munching salads, sipping a cappuccino and surfing the Web: Ronald McDonald, age 48.

While Ronald still plays an ambassador role, he isn't tied to the menu, said spokeswoman Danya Proud. Even as mascots such as Burger King's King shill on TV and the Web, Ronald has ceded the limelight to budding singers and dancers who sell mochas and frappes - not Happy Meals.

"We haven't been seeing a lot of Ronald McDonald," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "They're beginning to appeal to much more sophisticated individuals."

Amid intensifying concern over surging obesity rates, the chain has distanced itself from its fast-food origins, adding cafe-friendly items such as fruit smoothies and dolling up restaurants with free WiFi and padded seats. While the shift helped to revive sales growth last year - McDonald's has credited McCafe coffee for revenue growth in six of the past seven quarters - the new adults-only ambiance leaves little room for Ronald.

- Bloomberg News

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