Powell: Fed is 'days away' from making first loans through Main Street lending facility

Powell called launching the program 'very challenging'

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Friday the U.S. central bank's crisis-lending program for small- and medium-sized businesses will begin issuing emergency loans within a few days.

Businesses with up to 15,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue can apply for financing through the $600 billion Main Street Lending Program.

"We're days away from making our first loans in Main Street," Powell said during a virtual conference with Princeton University economist Alan Blinder, who served as vice chairman of the Fed's board of governors under former President Bill Clinton.

Under the program, businesses can secure loans of up to four years from banks at low rates. Payments can be deferred in their first year, although the loans must eventually be repaid.

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The program is designed to help businesses that are too big to tap the government-backed Paycheck Protection Program, but too small to access other avenues of relief offered by the central bank. Companies that were on sound financial footing pre-crisis and only damaged by the virus outbreak can tap the program.

The $2.2. CARES Act signed into law at the end of March provided $454 billion for the Treasury to backstop the various lending programs offered by the Fed.

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"It is very challenging," Powell said, "because it's an extraordinarily diverse space. The credit needs of different kinds of companies in different kinds of industries are extraordinarily diverse."

There is a $500,000 minimum, though Powell said he could see the Fed "expanding it on either end."

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