Small businesses still need loans

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber was a strong and vocal supporter of last year’s Small Business Jobs Act. I spoke at a press conference at the Capital along with several U.S. Senators to state our support and that of the American Sustainable Business Council for the legislation.

A key component of the effort was the establishment of a $30 billion lending fund to encourage community banks to make small business loans. Of course, just like Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, this program can only make issuing the loans more attractive. The SBA does this through federal guarantees and the lending fund does it through low interest rates.

The success of this new program is totally in the hands of the private lenders. Financial institutions cannot be forced to make the loans.

Today was the deadline for community banks to request to participate in the new lending fund. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 7% of the nation’s 7,700 community banks eligible for the loan program (because they have less than $10 billion in assets) have indicated that they want to participate. The Treasury Department has now extended the deadline to May 16th.

The reason given by some banks is that there is little loan demand from small businesses. That’s simply not true. The demand is there. I hear all the time that a small business owner, even with assets, can’t get a loan.

The truth is this. All financial institutions (with the encouragement of federal regulators) have raised the bar for qualified borrowers. Many of them are sitting on large vaults of money but are afraid to make small business loans that are now perceived as risky.

One solution to this dilemma is allowing the SBA to bypass the financial institutions and start making loans directly to small businesses. We’re now doing this with Stafford and other student loans from the federal government that use to go through private lenders. And I understand that the SBA actually does make business loans on its own in some cases.

The SBA direct small business loans idea has been discussed before but always quickly shot down. But if all the government incentives in the world won’t get the financial institutions to start lending to small businesses, then maybe it’s time to jump start the free market and our economy by putting Uncle Sam in the game.

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