The changes come as scores of American businesses are waiting for lawmakers to cut another stimulus deal, which could include an additional round of grants from the Paycheck Protection Program. Months of fraught negotiations between the White House and House Democrats have prompted some to ask what more the Federal Reserve could do to expand the reach of its emergency programs — particularly the Main Street lending facility.
The Main Street lending program, which has the capacity to issue up to $600 billion in loans, has so far made almost 400 loans totaling $3.7 billion. The program has been widely criticized for having onerous loan terms, and there are ongoing debates about how much risk the program should take on given that losses are ultimately covered by taxpayer dollars. But even now, hundreds of billions of dollars set aside by lawmakers to cover losses from the Fed’s emergency facilities are going untapped.
Testifying before the House Financial Services Committee last month, Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said that for many small businesses, PPP grants would be essential to companies that can’t afford to take on more debt. Powell testified that the Main Street program was seeing little demand for loans under $1 million, and that even smaller loans often require borrowers to put up some sort of personal guarantee to make the loan.
“Trying to underwrite the credit of hundreds of thousands of small businesses would be very difficult,” Powell said at the time. “I think PPP is a better way to address that space in the market.”
One of the changes the Fed made to the Main Street loan program on Friday clarified that businesses seeking Main Street loans from a bank should not have previous Paycheck Protection Program loans of up to $2 million held against them.
Borrowers and lenders participating in the Main Street program have raised concerns that PPP loans were being counted as part of a business’s debt load. Even though PPP loans are almost always turned into forgivable grants, businesses that got PPP loans could have had trouble getting an additional loan through the Main Street program.