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US has sent $8.28 billion in pandemic funds to local lenders


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WASHINGTON (AP) — On the same day the Federal Reserve gave a sobering report on the U.S. economy’s trajectory, administration officials highlighted how they have kept some of the nation’s smallest businesses afloat through the pandemic.

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Roughly $8.28 billion in relief funds have been disbursed to 162 community financial institutions across the country, through Treasury’s Emergency Capitol Investment Program, officials said Wednesday.

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Those financial institutions in turn offer loans to micro and small businesses.

The funding regime, abbreviated ECIP, is one of several pandemic relief programs meant to support community financial institutions — which provide loans, grants, and other assistance to small and minority-owned businesses that have difficulty getting funding from traditional banks.

“There is almost $9 billion on the ground right now” for community banks and lenders, Vice President Kamala Harris said on a call with reporters.

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Roughly 96 percent of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships and single employee companies. They have the hardest time finding funding and are often the first type of businesses impacted during economic downturns.

On the call with reporters, Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen highlighted some of the program recipients, including Native American Bank, which recently got a $10 million loan to finance an opioid addiction treatment facility in North Dakota, and a Georgia bank that recently gave a $650,000 working capital loan to an Atlanta-based, Black-owned affordable housing developer.

Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, California, and Texas have received some of the biggest contributions.

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“We’ve long known that too many Americans face significant barriers to participation in our financial system,” Yellen said. “I’m pleased that we’ve reached a milestone in our work to increase capital to these underserved communities.”

There were a record 5.4 million applications for new businesses filed in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, surpassing the previous peak in 2020 of 4.4 million.

Of that number, a growing share are sole proprietors and businesses without other employees.

“Frankly, a lot of businesses are just recovering from Covid,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said on the call. He said that community banks “really do incredible work in reaching small businesses.”

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Associated Press reporter Mae Anderson contributed to this report.

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