WASHINGTON -- Federal banking regulators have implemented several regulations aimed at assisting regions hit by hurricanes or riots.

The measures give assurance that bank and thrift examiners will be lenient about debt restructurings, capital requirements, and other matters in disaster-hit communities.

The new rules, implemented last week, "make a dramatic difference," said Robert Jensen, vice president of First National Bank of Homestead, Fla., one of the areas most hurt by Hurricane Andrew. "It gives us some breathing room to sort out where we stand."

The initiatives carry out the Depository Institutions Disaster Relief Act of 1992, which Congress passed last month. Most of the provisions are specific to Florida, Louisians, and Hawaii, where Andrew and Hurricane Iniki struck, and Los Angeles, the site of intense rioting last spring.

But other provisions will apply whenever a region is declared a disaster area. For instance, lenders in disaster areas will be exempt from real-estate appraisal requirements for three years, as long as the loans are disaster-related.

Relief on Capital Standards

Under the rules specific to recent disaster, regulators will give some financial institutions temporary relief from leverage-capital standards. Exemptions will be granted on a case-by-case basis for the next 18 months.

This is particularly important for banks whose deposits have increased dramatically because of insurance benefits and government aid.

"We've doubled our deposits as a result of the insurance checks coming in," Mr. Jensen said. "Nobody has the capital to handle" such a short-term boost in deposits.

To speed up infusions of liquidity, the new rules also make it easier for consumers over the next year to waive the mandatory three-day waiting period on home-secured loans.

Making Allowances

Regulators also say that, is assessing disaster-area compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act, they will look favorably upon banks and thrifts that set up programs for poor and moderate-income borrowers, even from other communities.

In conjunction with the new rules, the regulatory agencies issued a joint statement saying that examiners and supervisors will take into account the special circumstances of institutions in disaster areas. For example, bank efforts to restructure customer debt or extend repayment terms, if prudently done, will not be subject to examiner criticism.

Examiners and supervisors will also be more lenient with some disaster-related increases in levels of delinquent and nonperforming loans and with easing of credit terms for new loans.

Issued by Four Agencies

"With proper risk controls and management oversight, these steps [by banks and thrifts] can contribute to the health of the local community, as well as serve the long-run interests of the lending institution," the statement said.

The regulations were issued by the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Office of Thrift Supervision.

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