(WASHINGTON) — The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve have lent hardly any money under a $500 billion fund created by economic rescue law passed in response to the coronavirus crisis, a congressional oversight panel says in a new report.
The Treasury fund is being used to guarantee new, expansive Federal Reserve lending programs to companies, states and cities that could be leveraged to reach as much as $4.5 trillion.
So far only one of the new Fed programs has started operating, a lending fund likely to be tapped by large public companies, the report by the Congressional Oversight Commission said. The program was started on May 11 with $37.5 billion from Treasury.
The oversight panel issued its first report Monday even though it still does not have a chairman. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not agreed on a chair, leaving the five-member commission without a leader.
The commission has four other members appointed by congressional leaders. They produced a 17-page report that contains mostly questions about how the Treasury fund is going to function.
For instance, the panel asked how Treasury and the Fed will assess the program’s success or failure. If the agencies use economy-wide metrics, such as economic growth, unemployment rates or wage growth, “how will they isolate the effects of this program from other factors, including other federal and state relief measures?” the commission asked.
The panel said the questions asked in the report “are not meant to be comprehensive and will not prevent the commission from reviewing other matters in the future.”
The $500 billion Treasury fund includes $46 billion to make loans and loan guarantees to the airline industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic as air traffic has come to a near halt. None of that money has been disbursed.
Treasury also is creating a Main Street Lending Program intended to facilitate lending by banks to small and medium-sized businesses. That program also has not disbursed any money, the report said.
The economic rescue law, also known as the Cares Act, imposed a number of restrictions on the use of the Treasury fund. For example, none of the $500 billion can support an entity in which top Trump administration officials, members of Congress, or certain family members have a controlling interest.
The Fed says it takes time to ensure that the program includes legal language that protects taxpayers. The Fed was criticized for failing to ensure such safeguards during the 2008 financial crisis, most notably to bail out insurance giant AIG.
The failure by Pelosi and McConnell to agree on a chair for the oversight head has disappointed watchdog groups that have pushed for stricter oversight of the $2 trillion rescue law. The standoff between the two leaders “far transcends this particular problem,” but “oversight should not suffer because these two can’t agree,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.
Representatives for Pelosi and McConnell said they had no update on when the oversight position would be filled.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are set to testify Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.