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House Democrats give Geithner plan to revamp HAMP

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Democrats sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Monday night, detailing their plans for improving the Home Affordable Modification Program. The letter, signed by 50 Democrats, came one day before the House of Representatives is set to vote to terminate HAMP. The program launched in March 2009, and since, participating servicers started roughly 600,000 permanent modifications. However the Congressional Oversight Panel estimates HAMP will avert only 800,000 foreclosures before the program ends, far short of the 3 million to 4 million originally estimated. Democrats want the Treasury to enforce a range of new requirements under the program. These include establishing a single-point of contact between the borrower and the servicer, ending the practice of pursuing a foreclosure and a modification simultaneously, and requiring an independent review of loan modification denials. The changes are strikingly similar to the settlement proposal by the 50 state attorneys general investigating these same companies for foreclosure fraud. And last week, 18 senators sent a similar letter to the Treasury asking for the same requirements. But in addition to these requests, House Democrats want the Treasury to begin assessing penalties outside of any deal struck between the AGs and the servicers. "We ask that the Treasury Department begin levying fines and penalties against servicers who fail to follow program rules," the letter reads. "We believe that continuing HAMP without meaningful enforcement would be a mistake." House Republicans were not optimistic that the changes would be put in place, sources said. However, the Treasury responded Tuesday morning. In a speech at Harvard University, Assistant Secretary Tim Massad reiterated that the Treasury did not have the legal authority to assess fines, but it will begin grading the 10 largest servicers beginning next month and will withhold funds from any company that scores poorly. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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