WASHINGTON — Loans made through the Small Business Lending Fund continued their climb in the first quarter, rising by $433 million compared with the fourth quarter of 2011, the Treasury Department said Monday.

In its latest report on the fund's progress, Treasury said institutions have to date increased lending to small businesses by $5.2 billion over baseline levels, a 9% increase from the end of last year.

Community banks have accounted for most of the boost, the report said. In all, $5.1 billion of the increased lending over baseline levels is attributed to community banks.

The SBLF program is meant to encourage lending to small businesses by making capital available to community banks and community development loan funds with less than $10 billion in assets.

The government has invested more than $4 billion among the 332 institutions that participate in the fund.

Under the program, 84% of the participating community banks and 86% of the participating CDLFs have increased their small business lending, the report said. More than 69% of participants have now increased their small business lending by 10% or more.

Treasury also included data showing SBLF banks have outpaced other institutions in their lending to small businesses. Banks participating in the program have increased their business lending by a median of 22.2% versus a 1.9% median decrease for non-SBLF banks.

Participating banks reported median increases across three of the four main business loan categories — commercial and industrial, owner-occupied commercial real estate, agricultural production, and farmland — while a comparison group of non-SBLF banks reported median decreases in those categories.

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