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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues

Sean Lowry
Analyst in Public Finance

As communities face a variety of economic challenges, some are looking to local banks and financial institutions for solutions that address the specific development needs of low-income and distressed communities. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) provide financial products and services, such as mortgage financing for homebuyers and not-for-profit developers, underwriting and risk capital for community facilities; technical assistance; and commercial loans and investments to small, start-up, or expanding businesses. CDFIs include regulated institutions, such as community development banks and credit unions, and non-regulated institutions, such as loan and venture capital funds.

The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (the Fund), an agency within the Department of the Treasury, administers several programs that encourage the role of CDFIs, and similar organizations, in community development. Nearly 1,000 financial institutions located throughout all 50 states are eligible for the Fund’s programs to provide financial and technical assistance to meet the needs of businesses, homebuyers, community developers, and investors in distressed communities. In addition, the Fund allocates the New Markets Tax Credit to more than 5,000 eligible investment vehicles in low-income communities (LICs).

This report begins by describing the Fund’s history, current appropriations, and each of its programs. A description of the Fund’s process of certifying certain financial institutions to be eligible for the Fund’s program awards follows. The next section provides an overview of each program’s purpose, use of award proceeds, eligibility criteria, and relevant issues for Congress.

The final section analyzes four policy considerations of congressional interest, regarding the Fund and the effective use of federal resources to promote economic development. First, it analyzes the debate on targeting development assistance toward particular geographic areas or low-income individuals generally. Prior research indicates that geographically targeted assistance, like the Fund’s programs, may increase economic activity in the targeted place or area. However, this increase may be due to a shift in activity from an area not eligible for assistance.

Second, it analyzes the debate over targeting economic development policies toward labor or capital. The Fund’s programs primarily rely on the latter, such as encouraging lending to small businesses, rather than targeting labor, such as wage subsidies. Research indicates the benefits of policies that reduce capital costs in a targeted place may not be passed on to local laborers, in the form of higher wages or increased employment.

Third, it examines whether the Fund plays a unique role in promoting economic development, or if it duplicates, compliments, or competes with the goals and activities of other federal, state, and local programs. Although CDFIs are eligible for other federal assistance programs and other agencies have a similar mission as the Fund, the Fund’s programs have a particular emphasis on encouraging private investment and building the capacity of private financial entities to enhance local economic development

Fourth, it examines assessments of the Fund’s management. Some argue that the Fund’s programs are not managed in an effective manner and are not held to appropriate performance measures. Others argue that the Fund is fulfilling its mission and achieving its performance measures.

Date of Report: October 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R42770
Price: $29.95

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