FILE PHOTO: The Federal Reserve seal is seen during Chairman Jerome Powell news conference following the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting on interest rate policy in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday widened a key program to nurse the “Main Street” economy through the coronavirus pandemic, agreeing to lend to even larger firms, taking on more risk in participation with banks, and hinting at some form of dedicated help for non-profits.

The central bank said it would expand its “Main Street Lending Facility” into three separate programs to support businesses with up to 15,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue compared to an initial program limited to 10,000 workers and $2 billion when it was announced on April 9.

Some 2,200 business, individuals and non-profits had written in with suggestions about how to tailor the Fed’s unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the “real economy.”

The result is a program that will now be open to more firms, and allow more risk-taking. The initial program required banks to hold 5% of any loan they made, with the rest coming from the Fed. For companies with more leverage, and thus more risk, the Fed will allow them to participate if banks agree to take on 15%.

In addition, the Fed said firms now had to offer a reasonable assurance they could pay their bills for at least 90 days and would not go bankrupt in that period – a measure of protection that the lending will have an impact.

Firms also have to promise they will make “commercially reasonable efforts” to maintain employees – a change from just the “reasonable efforts” demanded previously.

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Howard Schneider; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao

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