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Democrats to amend bills ending HAMP, NSP

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Should Congress end the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, an option currently under consideration, Democrats want affected mortgage borrowers to know. If the provisions pass as currently written, Democrats say it will leave vulnerable homeowners hanging. Instead, through introduced amendments to the above legislation, people impacted by the passage of the bills will be notified that the programs are ending, even though the status of their mortgage modification will not be impacted. The House Financial Services Committee debated two bills that would end these programs in a hearing that lasted all day Wednesday. Republicans continually made the point that they can no longer fund programs deemed ineffective, while Democrats urged lawmakers to retool these programs instead of terminating them all together. The Treasury Department launched HAMP in March 2009 to provide incentives to mortgage servicers to avoid foreclosures. Those servicers have offered roughly 600,000 permanent modifications, well short of the 3 million to 4 million originally estimated. The Treasury has already spent roughly $1 billion through HAMP, but the bill would prohibit using the other $29 billion set aside for it. The Department of Housing and Urban Development already spent $6 billion through two rounds of NSP funding that allows local and state governments and nonprofits to buy up vacant and foreclosed properties, then rehab and resell them. The bill would keep HUD from releasing the last $1 billion. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) submitted amendments requiring Treasury to notify borrowers on its website that HAMP has been terminated and would direct homeowners still searching for a modification to contact their representatives in Congress. Another amendment would require HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to approximate the number of jobs lost and send a letter to recipients asking them to contact members of Congress. Lawmakers agreed to reword the amendments directing homeowners and grant recipients to contact city officials. But that's where compromise seemed to end. The bill ending HAMP would still fund permanent and trial modifications already entered into, but Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) submitted an amendment that would protect homeowners who asked servicers for HAMP consideration by March 1. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) argued that the Treasury cannot track who applied for HAMP and that only those who've already made it to the trial stage are safe. McCarthy said that information could come from the servicers. Yet another amendment submitted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would end HAMP but only after an additional 500,000 modifications are made permanent. That would bring the the total to roughly 1 million. The Treasury recently re-estimated the eligible amount of loans to be 1.4 million. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) sponsored the bill ending HAMP. He cited recent testimony from the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Congressional Oversight Panel that laid out many shortcomings in the program that has underwhelmed so many. "This program has been a complete and utter failure, and there's not getting around that," McHenry said. However, Democrats said they cannot support the bills without have something to replace the programs. "We are about to have a hearing closing down four programs to help homeowners that help neighborhoods, and I have not heard one program to replace them," Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.). "What I am against is saying that foreclosures is not a problem. You're on your own. Too bad. Let's come up with a program that we can work together on to help these people and these communities." As for NSP, some Republicans made the claim that private capital was available to buy these homes, but HUD's grants have priced them out of the market. Democrats scoffed at the notion. "Walk through Detroit and see if private enterprises are there to buy up property," said Rep. Al Green (D-TX). "They're not. That's why we need this program." Still, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said as Congress works to reduce the deficit and the country's overall debt, the cuts have to start somewhere. "We want to do something about the debt, but we don't want to do something today or for this program," Hensarling complained. The House committee voted last week to terminate the FHA Short Refi and HUD's Emergency Homeowner Loan Program. Those bills will go to the floor for a vote Thursday. However, the Obama administration said Tuesday night that it would veto these two bills if Congress passed them. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAPrior

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