WASHINGTON -- Armed with $3.2 billion in new loan-guarantee authority, the Small Business Administration this week invited banks to begin taking new applications from customers who need the subsidized credit.

And some bankers, including loan officers at First National Bank of Stillwell, Okla., said they will begin responding right away.

"We have about a half-million dollars in applications in the pipeline, and another half-million dollars in applications that have just been waiting," said Susan Kerns, the bank's vice president for government-guaranteed lending.

Supplemental Appropriation

The pipeline represents loans that the bank forwarded to the SBA for approval, but which could not be funded after the agency's loan-guarantee program ran out of money in April. The applications represent loan requests taken after April and held until the SBA received a cash infusion.

On Saturday, President Clinton signed into law a supplemental appropriations bill that included $175 million for the SBA's main loan-guarantee program. The appropriation is enough to provide guarantees for $3.2 billion in new loans, and is expected to last until Oct. I., when the new fiscal year begins.

A spokesman for the SBA said the agency began sending authorization letters out to banks this week telling them they could close loans that had been in the pipeline since April. All told, 3,340 loans worth $755 million have been on hold.

"We also told them that they could start taking new loan applications right away," said SBA spokesman Mike Stamler.

Warm Welcome Expected

Ms. Kerns said the new authority would be welcomed by the bank's customers, particularly those trying to start new businesses.

"A lot of them have left their previous employment to start up their business. And they can't keep going just on their own funds," she said.

Without the SBA's 7(a) program, she said, "we'd have to tell them to wait a couple of years and get their business on more solid ground before we could lend to them."

SBA administrator Erskin Bowles said the new lending authority "will be a big shot in the arm" for the nation's small businesses and for the economy.

"Simply put, it means more jobs," he added.

Uncertainties Cited

However, one banker said that uncertainties surrounding President Clinton's economic program could limit the effectiveness of the SBA guarantees.

"Small business is waiting to see what happens with the tax bill before making decisions" on whether to expand and borrow money, said James R. Lauffer, president of the Independent Bankers Association of America.

Mr. Lauffer, who is chairman of First National Bank of Herminie in Herminie, Pa., said concerns over the costs involved in the health care package will also limit credit demand.

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