to pay off government checks, dragging out the time banks must cover for Uncle Sam. "Treasury is basically saying, 'I want to you to be efficient in paying me, but I don't have to be efficient in paying you,'" said Dan M. Fisher, senior vice president of operations at Victoria (Tex.) Bank and Trust. The government's five-month float also would contradict a history of court rulings and the Expedited Funds Availability Act, which sets strict timetables for clearing checks, he added. Kawika Daguio, the American Bankers Association's banking operations specialist, said the two changes shift a large burden on to the industry's shoulders. They also could force banks to rethink accepting the checks. Finally, the Treasury's plan would allow it to refuse payment of government checks that are counterfeited, subjecting banks to additional risk. Currently, the Treasury is only able to return checks that contain forged endorsements or "a material defect or alteration." The Treasury issued this plan for comment Sept. 21. By the deadline for comments Monday, nine letters had been filed. The 470 million checks covered by this new regulation would include Social Security payments, Internal Revenue Service refunds, and checks that cover "any federal government obligation," according to Ronald Brooks, senior program analyst at the Treasury's financial processing division. The Treasury defends its proposal by explaining the changes are intended to clarify ambiguous rules. Now, the government has "reasonable time" - which the Treasury considers to be one year - to pay off government checks. The Expedited Funds Availability Act generally requires government checks to be made available on the next business day, though the timetable is longer for amounts over $5,000. Past federal court cases have established 14 days to be an unreasonably long amount of time for holding back payment on a counterfeit check.

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