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Proposed changes to community lending rules draw fire

WASHINGTON -- Poor and middle-income Americans could be deprived of access to bank services such as affordable home loans and low-fee accounts because of changes being proposed by one of the nation's bank regulators, critics of the revisions say.

A public comment period on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act expired yesterday but an agency spokesman said there was no timeline for a final decision.

Proponents contend the revisions would streamline a regulatory process that especially burdens small banks and lending institutions.

The act requires banks to make loans in low-income and minority areas where they operate in order to open branches.

Current FDIC regulations classify banks with less than $250 million in assets as ''small banks," allowing them to fall under less stringent Community Reinvestment Act guidelines. One of the central parts of the proposal would create a midlevel, less stringent oversight standard for banks with assets between $250 million and $1 billion.

The proposal has garnered opposition from groups ranging from the American Corn Growers Association to the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses, said Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

''Make no mistake, this is a deliberate effort to gut the Community Reinvestment Act," he said.

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