Washington-area thrift president A. Bruce Cleveland is making sure the lights don't go out on four government guys during the federal shutdown. The four: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt - otherwise known as Mount Rushmore.
Bethesda, Md.-based Presidential Savings Bank, which uses the South Dakota monument in its logo, is picking up the hefty lighting bill on behalf of the National Park Service.
"This might start a whole new system of government funding," Mr. Cleveland said.
Maybe and maybe not, but Presidential is just one of a growing number of banks pitching in to cover the federal government. This week, banks big and small around the country made special programs available to 280,000 government employees furloughed since Dec. 16.
In its third week, the shutdown hasn't yet become a crisis for customers, bankers said, but it could if the budget problem is not resolved soon. After the shutdown ends, workers are expected to receive back pay.
For now, many bankers said they are helping their unwillingly idle customers through their cash flow problems with special loans and loan payment deferments.
"I don't think things are awful by any stretch of the imagination," said Jay Barr, executive vice president of community banking at Washington, D.C.'s Riggs National Bank, the capital region's biggest independent bank. "I think there's a need there. I know that if my pay were cut off for a few weeks, I'd be upset."
Some institutions have implemented special programs; others are operating on a case-by-case basis.
For instance, $6.7 billion-asset First Citizens Bank, Raleigh, N.C., is offering 30-day extensions on installment loan payments to affected federal workers whose loans were current at the time of the shutdown.
Boston-based Fleet Banks and Bank of Boston are going to start offering no-interest loans of up to $5,000 next week for qualified, idled federal employees. NationsBank Corp. is forgoing collection on all consumer loans for 30 days upon the request of furloughed customers in good standing, according to Ken Lewis, president.
"We share the frustration of the rest of the nation in the inability of our elected officials to resolve this impasse in the best interests of the nation," Mr. Lewis said in a statement.
NationsBank will also make emergency loans to affected customers at below-market rates, and won't report late payments to credit bureaus if furloughed borrowers ask for forbearance.
Hibernia Corp., New Orleans, is extending consumer loan installments 30 days to furloughed federal workers who ask for it. Also, a group of New Jersey banks led by United Jersey Bank is helping affected Social Security Administration employees. Alpine Banks of Colorado will make $7 million available for interest-free loans, and a group of Philadelphia-area banks is thinking of banding together for a loan fund.
"The loan-payment extensions are really just an example of the whole attitude we have been asking our employees to take with these people," said First Citizens spokesman Christopher Bubin, adding that North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms had expressed concern about workers' loan payments during the furlough.
Other banks offering loans with no interest or reduced interest to idle government workers include Alpine Banks of Colorado and a group of Pennsylvania community banks.
Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bill to end the shutdown, but the House of Representatives appeared hesitant to agree if budget talks were not advanced.
Banks in the Washington area, home to approximately 110,000 furloughed federal workers, have paid particular attention to the issue. The region's economy is largely based on the federal government. And the lack of federal paychecks is having a ripple effect on all businesses.
'We are very cognizant of the financial impact," said Thomas B. Hoppin, president of $100 million-asset Century National Bank, a block and a half from the White House. "I'm having each of our loan officers assess need in each case. We are ready to make deferrals when underlying credit on a long- term basis is sound."
And $4.7 billion-asset Riggs National has developed an emergency loan program for existing federal workers who receive pay through direct deposit - between 5,000 and 7,000 customers - according to Mr. Barr.
For a $40 fee, they can borrow the difference (from $500 to $2,500) between the full pay received in December and the partial pay for January, with no interest charges. Another plan allows affected borrowers to defer January or February installment loan payments for a month.
Bankers outside the Beltway have watched the shutdown's effects, too.
Numerous employees of New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns and a large energy department office in the area are on furlough.
"We'll do whatever we have to do to help them," said Don Kidd, president and CEO of $215 million-asset Western Commerce Bank, Carlsbad. "We've made a few not-large loans. We're very quick to grant extensions."
The bank also recently donated $1,000 to help keep the Caverns open on a limited basis.
At $130 million-asset Presidential Savings in Bethesda, Mr. Cleveland read on the Internet about a South Dakota rancher who had paid Mount Rushmore's December electricity bill and wanted help for future payments.
Presidential sent $600 this week to cover January electricity costs - and promised to make monthly payments until the shutdown ends.
"We didn't want to see the lights go out on our logo," Mr. Cleveland said. "It's a symbol for all Americans."