Riggs National Corp. won an upgrade under the Community Reinvestment Act by boosting its low-income and moderate-income lending fivefold in two years.

The bank worked with the local government here and community groups to increase lending to secure an upgrade from "needs to improve" to "satisfactory" under CRA.

Such outreach was not possible in the early 1990s when Riggs was struggling to survive. But with a record $88 million in earnings last year, the bank was able to boost its CRA compliance.

"We just didn't do very much lending at all in the early nineties," said Russell D. Simmons, senior vice president and head of the bank's community reinvestment division. "But we've become more stable these days and can do more lending."

Riggs' CRA lending topped $100 million last year, up from $20 million in 1993 and $80 million in 1994.

Riggs' Micro Loan Program, a cooperative effort between the bank, local government, and five neighborhood groups begun in January 1995, has been the key to much of the recent growth. Riggs provides each group $100,000 for loans, half of which is guaranteed by the District of Columbia government. The community groups then decide who receives the loans, using flexible underwriting standards developed in conjunction with the bank.

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