WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Thursday it will extend a deadline for struggling homeowners to access a government program to help reduce their monthly mortgage payments.

The Treasury Department and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly agreed to allow the Making Home Affordable Program to continue to be available to American families for an additional two years through Dec. 31, 2015.

"The housing market is gaining steam, but many homeowners are still struggling," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a press release. "Helping responsible homeowners avoid foreclosure is part of our wide-ranging efforts to strengthen the middle class, and Making Home Affordable offers homeowners some of the deepest and most dependable assistance available to prevent foreclosure."

The program has been a critical part of the White House's efforts to provide relief to families at risk of foreclosure and help the housing market recover. It was launched in March 2009 and has helped 1.3 million families.

Early estimates by the administration projected that up to 3 to 4 million families would be helped under the program, but it has continued to be a challenge reaching certain segments of the population that may be at risk of losing their homes. Currently 15,000 families a month are entering the program, according to a Treasury official.

"Families across the country have used its tools to reduce their principal, modify their mortgages, fight off foreclosure and stay in their homes — helping further stimulate our housing market recovery," Shaun Donovan, the HUD secretary, said in the release. "And with this extension we ensure that the program keeps supporting communities for years to come."

It's unclear how many more families could be aided with a two-year extension, a senior Treasury official told reporters in a briefing. The official declined to provide estimates.

"My goal is not to hit a number of modifications, my goal is to help people who are in need while we're still coming out of this crisis," the official said. "If the housing market continues to make a strong recovery, and the number of people entering this program drop off dramatically, that's success."

In January of 2012 the administration announced a series of changes to its mortgage modification program. They included extending the deadline to apply to the program by a year to the end of 2013 and allowing borrowers who were initially not eligible for the program to go through a secondary evaluation process.

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