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On November 1, the SBA announced that three new Small Business Lending Company (SBLC) licenses have been issued to lenders focused on underserved markets, which is notably the first expansion of the SBLC program in more than 40 years. An SBLC license permits lending institutions to leverage government guarantees during the process of approving small business loans, decreasing risk for the lender, and lowering costs for the borrower. Consequently, SBA noted, SBLCs can extend a greater number of loans to small businesses than would be feasible without government support. The announcement stated that SBA's current SBLCs surpass banks and credit unions in their ability to provide loans to minority-owned businesses.
In June, the SBA opened a window for new applications for lenders. In announcing the new licensees, SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman stated that “[w]ith the addition of three new Small Business License Companies, the SBA will be able to serve even more small business owners who need capital to start, operate, and grow their businesses.” The SBA highlighted that “[e]ach of the three new SBLC license holders will focus on historically underserved markets, including small businesses in Native, rural, and low-income communities.”
On October 30, President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) outlining how the federal government can promote artifical intelligence (AI) safety and security to protect US citizens’ rights by: (i) directing AI developers to share critical information and test results with the U.S. government; (ii) developing standards for safe and secure AI systems; (iii) protecting citizens from AI-enabled fraud; (iv) establishing a cybersecurity program; and (v) creating a National Security Memorandum developed by the National Security Council to address AI security.
President Biden also called on Congress to act by passing “bipartisan data privacy legislation” that (i) prioritizes federal support for privacy preservation; (ii) strengthens privacy technologies; (iii) evaluates agencies’ information collection processes for AI risks; and (iv) develops guidelines for federal agencies to evaluate privacy-preserving techniques. The EO additionally encourages agencies to use existing authorities to protect consumers and promote equity. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FCC recently proposed to use AI to block unwanted robocalls and texts). The order further outlines how the U.S. can continue acting as a leader in AI innovation by catalyzing AI research, promoting a fair and competitive AI ecosystem, and expanding the highly skilled workforce by streamlining visa review.
On October 16, HUD introduced a new policy that aims to make it easier for borrowers to finance Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in their primary residences. ADUs are small living units built inside, attached to, or on the same property as, the main home. This policy change allows lenders to consider ADU rental income when assessing a borrower's eligibility for an FHA mortgage.
The new policies provide:
- Income Flexibility: Borrowers with limited incomes can use 75% of their estimated ADU rental income to qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage for properties with existing ADUs.
- New ADUs: For new ADUs that borrowers plan to attach to an existing structure, such as a garage or basement conversion, 50% of the estimated rental income can be used for qualification under FHA's Standard 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program.
- Appraisal Requirements: The policy includes ADU-specific appraisal guidelines to accurately assess the market value of properties with ADUs, making it easier for appraisers to report on ADU characteristics and expected rental generation.
- New Construction: The policy also allows FHA mortgages to finance new homes built with ADUs, expanding ADU production beyond the rehabilitation of existing structures.
The White House concurrently released a statement on the policy, noting that it is allowing rental income from ADUs to qualify for FHA-insured mortgages. HUD added that FHA-approved lenders can start offering borrowers mortgages on properties with ADUs under the new policies effective immediately.
On October 1, President Joe Biden signed H.R. 5860, a government spending bill to avert a government shutdown. The President’s remarks note that although a budget agreement was reached months ago, House Republicans made a last-minute push for spending cuts, derailing the original agreement. Among other things, the bill extends (i) government funding through November 17; and (ii) the National Flood Insurance Program through November 17.
On September 15, President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate Jennifer L. Fain as Inspector General of the FDIC. Fain brings over 22 years of experience in the inspector general community, most recently serving as Deputy Inspector General for the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). She has extensive oversight experience in financial services and consumer protection and has held leadership positions in various audit, inspection, and evaluation offices within federal agencies. Fain holds an M.S. in Finance from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S.B.A. in Accounting from the University of Colorado.
On August 22, the White House announced the SAVE Plan, an income-driven repayment plan, intended to calculate payments based on a borrower’s income and family size rather than the loan balance and provide forgiveness for balances after a certain number of years since repayment. It is estimated that over 20 million borrowers could benefit from this plan and that it will have particular critical benefits for low- and middle-income borrowers, community college students, and borrowers who work in public service. In order to encourage participation by borrowers, the Department of Education is partnering with grassroots organizations on an outreach campaign. This plan builds on broader actions taken by the current administration to deliver relief to borrowers and make college more affordable.
On August 14, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed without prejudice a lawsuit filed against the federal government aimed at blocking the Biden administration’s effort to provide debt relief to student borrowers (covered by InfoBytes here). U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington held that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to plausibly demonstrate how the government’s plans would impact their efforts to recruit participants as qualified employers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The court detailed that “[Plaintiffs] merely make vague and conclusory statements that some ‘undisclosed’ number of borrowers will receive credit toward loan forgiveness for some periods of forbearance” but “do not allege that any current employee received Adjustment credit.” Furthermore, any such “hypothetical injur[y]” would be traceable to “Plaintiffs’ own employees or prospective employees, not the Adjustment.” Because there was no standing, the court dismissed the complaint without prejudice and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction as moot.
On August 4, two nonprofit entities filed a lawsuit against the federal government aimed at blocking the Biden administration’s recent effort to provide debt relief to student borrowers. The administration’s efforts were implemented in response to the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision striking down the DOE’s student loan debt relief program that would have canceled between $10,000 and $20,000 in debt for certain student borrowers (covered by InfoBytes here). The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, targets the administration’s efforts to credit borrowers participating in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) plan and Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan by providing credit for periods when loans were in forbearance or deferment, which would affect more than 804,000 borrowers, forgiving approximately $39 billion in loan payments, according to the DOE.
As an initial matter, plaintiffs assert that they are injured by the administration’s actions because, as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, they benefit from the PSLF program by allowing them to “attract and retain borrower-employees who might otherwise choose higher-paying employment with non-qualifying employers in the private sector.” Thus, according to plaintiffs, cancellation of PSLF loans would reduce the incentive for borrowers to work at public service employers and the decision “unlawfully deprives [PSLF] employers of the full statutory benefit to which they are entitled under PSLF.”
Plaintiffs accuse the administration of putting the plan on an “accelerated schedule apparently designed to evade judicial review.” The plaintiffs assert that the DOE lacks authority to classify “non-payments as payments,” and that the statutes for the PSLF and IDR programs require actual payments to qualify for forgiveness under each plan. The suit brings four claims against the administration: (i) violation of the Appropriation Clause of the U.S. Constitution by canceling debt that Congress did not authorize; (ii) violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by issuing a final agency decision without appropriate statutory authority; (iii) violation of the APA by taking an arbitrary and capricious agency action by failing to “explain why [DOE] has changed its policy from not crediting non-payments during periods of loan forbearance to crediting such payments for purposes of PSLF and IDR forgiveness” and “entirely fail[ing] to consider the cost to taxpayers of crediting periods of forbearance toward PSLF and IDR forgiveness,” among other reasons; and (iv) violation of the APA by failing to undertake notice-and-comment procedures in implementing the changes.
On August 9, the White House announced that President Biden signed an Executive Order on Addressing United States Investments In Certain National Security Technologies and Products In Countries of Concern (E.O.). The President explained his view that some countries create national security risks by using particular technologies to advance their “military and defense industrial sectors” rather than civilian and commercial sectors. Biden stated that although open global capital flows substantially benefit the U.S., the E.O. stated that certain investments may “accelerate and increase the success of the development of sensitive technologies and products in countries that develop them to counter United States and allied capabilities.” The E.O. directs the Secretary of the Treasury to issue regulations that (i) prohibit U.S. persons from participating in specific transactions associated with particular technologies and products that present a significant and urgent risk to national security; and (ii) mandate U.S. persons to notify the Treasury about different transactions related to specific technologies and products that may contribute to the national security threat. The annex to the E.O. identifies China, including Hong Kong and Macau, as the sole nation warranting concern. The E.O. also requires the Secretary to communicate with Congress and the public regarding the E.O., consult with other agency leaders, assess whether to amend the regulations within one year, and provide reports to the President and Congress.
The Treasury simultaneously issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, requesting public comment on the implementation of the E.O., along with proposed definitions of key terms, before the program goes into effect. Written comments may be submitted within 45 days here.
On July 26, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing regarding “fees and tactics impacting Americans’ wallets” in relation to financial services and the role of the CFPB in addressing harmful fees. Leading the hearing, Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), chairman of the committee, explained that some “excessively high” and unclear fees do not serve an economic value, referring to these as “junk fees.” Senator Warnock shared that 1/3 of households that do not use banks cite high fees as their reason for continuing without a bank account. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) criticized the CFPB’s attempts at avoiding the oversight of the Administrative Procedures Act in the rule-making process by mislabeling its actions. Tillis added that after the 2008 financial crisis, regulators emphasized the importance of overdraft revenue as, “an appropriate tool for ensuring the stability of the bank’s balance sheets.” He then criticized the shift in guidance, as the CFPB looks to reprimand banks who follow “the established prudential standards for the crime of listening to their previous federal regulators.” He also claimed that the Bureau does not have proper jurisdiction, resources, or staff to make such decisions.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry testified about recent enforcement actions she has taken, including a recently filed suit against a Wall Street private equity-owned installment lender, who allegedly charged consumers “junk fees” for low-value or valueless add-on products. Henry also mentioned entering into a settlement relating to a bank charging “junk fees” in connection with auto finance products. Brian Johnson, a financial regulatory compliance specialist and former deputy director of the CFPB, claimed that the agencies and the White House have failed to provide a consistent definition for the “junk fees” that could subject institutions to scrutiny, and criticized the CFPB, saying that it does not follow its own regulations and laws governing how agencies make rules by publishing interpretive rules as policy statements in bulletins. A final topic raised by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) regarded land contracts and lease-to-purchase or rent-to-own agreements that she claimed can be exploitative towards underserved communities. Smith noted that such contacts are “designed to fail,” noting that more than 80 percent of the time, people lose all their equity because they do not make it to the last payment of the contract.