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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Federal regulators discuss Covid-19 responses during Senate hearing

Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Federal Reserve FDIC OCC NCUA Covid-19 SBA Small Business Lending CRA CARES Act

Federal Issues

On May 12, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Oversight of the Financial Regulators,” which primarily focused on responses by the Federal Reserve Board (Fed), FDIC, OCC, and NCUA to the Covid-19 pandemic. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opened the hearing by thanking the regulators for crafting regulatory responses to assist financial institutions in meeting the needs of affected borrowers, and encouraged the regulators to find ways to provide flexibility for financial institutions that lend to households and businesses. Crapo also stressed the importance of making sure the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and the Municipal Liquidity Facility (coved by InfoBytes here) are “up and running quickly,” and expressed continued concerns that the “inclusion of population thresholds for cities and states that were not a part of the CARES Act will still impede access to smaller and rural communities.” Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued, however, that the regulators’ relief measures have not favored consumers.

Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles provided an update on the Fed’s Covid-19 regulatory and supervisory efforts. When asked during the hearing when the Main Street Lending Program would be operational, he declined to give an exact date but emphasized it is the Fed’s “top priority,” and that he did not anticipate it will take months. When questioned about whether the Fed is taking measures to “ensure businesses are getting equitable access to the [lending] facilities,” Quarles stated that the Fed relies on banks to do the underwriting, but will supervise the banks to make sure the underwriting is done “safely and fairly.”

OCC Comptroller Joseph M. Otting also discussed a range of actions taken by the agency in response to the pandemic and outlined additional OCC priorities and objectives, including its proposal to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Senator Menendez (D-NJ) asked whether the OCC should revisit the proposed CRA rewrite, citing the inability of some small businesses—particularly minority-owned businesses—to obtain relief under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). In response, Otting argued that the rewrite (done in conjunction with the FDIC—see InfoBytes CRA coverage here) should actually be accelerated “because it will drive more dollars into low and moderate income communities” impacted by the pandemic. However, several Democrats on the Committee disagreed and called for a separate hearing to discuss the CRA proposal.

FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams also addressed actions undertaken to maintain stability and to provide flexibility to both banks and consumers. Among other things, McWilliams stated that banks should rely on borrowers’ statements certifying that their economic need is legitimate when making PPP loans. “Our instruction to banks has been to make sure these loans are not being traditionally underwritten [and] to take a look at the certification that the borrower is providing,” McWilliams said during the hearing. She also emphasized that all banks must comply with fair lending laws when making PPP loans, whether or not specific guidance has been issued.

NCUA Chairman Rodney E. Hood also outlined agency measures in response to the pandemic. Among other things, Hood noted that the NCUA has issued guidance to support credit union industry participation in the PPP and approved several regulatory changes concerning the classification of PPP loans for regulatory capital and commercial underwriting purposes.

The following day, the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions also held a roundtable with the federal regulators to discuss Covid-19 responses.

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